FORT WAYNE — Opening day at Parkview Field is 74 days away, but The Harrison overlooking left field is ready to play ball.
Officially, the 100,000-square-foot, mixed-use building opens Friday, but the 3Rivers Federal Credit Union branch opened Tuesday, and renters are expected to start moving into the apartments on the third and fourth floors on Thursday.
Law firm Carson Boxberger has rented the entire second floor of the building; its first day in its new home will be Feb. 25, about the time O’Reilly’s Irish Bar & Restaurant is expected to open.
BND Commercial leasing agent Breck Geeting said there are negotiations taking place for other first-floor retail space in the building, but nothing she can talk about yet.
“We’re confident that at some point we’re going to have it all leased up,” Geeting said. “It’s just a matter of time before those other spaces are filled.”
3Rivers and O’Reilly’s have taken about a third of the retail space on the first floor; on the third and fourth floors, 22 of the 43 apartments have been leased, and all of the apartments facing the ballpark have been taken.
“We see this as great,” Geeting said. “To have 22 (apartments) leased before it even opens up, this is very encouraging for downtown living.”
And downtown living is seen as critical to the continued rebirth of the city’s core.
“The apartments are a perfect match for the very active lifestyle that living there will provide,” said Greg Leatherman, executive director of the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission. “It means a lot to downtown.”
More people living downtown will change the atmosphere dramatically, Leatherman said, and the apartments will change the atmosphere inside the ballpark, as well.
“I think people will discover it’s such a new environment in which to enjoy baseball,” he said. “The effect of people on balconies in left field will give the game a quality that will surprise people.”
Some of those people will likely be attorneys and staff at Carson Boxberger, who have a large balcony off their second-floor offices overlooking the stadium.
Andy Boxberger said the firm spent a lot of time working to make its sleek, modern space work efficiently but also to encourage the 44 employees to work collaboratively.
Attorneys’ offices have glass walls and no doors and surround large, open staff spaces; even conference rooms have glass walls. The firm’s current offices in One Summit Square are more like a warren.
The firm’s clients want the benefit of teamwork, and “this kind of environment really fosters that,” Boxberger said. All attorneys’ offices are the same size and have the same furnishings.
“That all benefits recruiting, efficiency and work environment,” he said. “We want young, talented people to want to come work here.”
City officials have repeatedly praised Carson Boxberger’s leasing of the entire second floor of the four-story building as a huge commitment toward the estimated $18.5 million project, which was due to be finished in 2009 but stalled when the economy tanked and financing dried up.
“It’s absolutely a commitment to Fort Wayne and downtown,” Boxberger said. “We think a vibrant downtown is essential to this community, and we’re really excited to be here.”
Leatherman said Harrison Square, with its parking garage, ballpark and hotel, is already paying off, and that momentum will grow with The Harrison’s opening.
“I think people … are impressed with the way it was done,” Leatherman said. “It makes a statement that we’re making downtown a much more destination-oriented place to be.”
The building’s completion is masked by the ongoing construction in front, where crews are working to eliminate a travel lane on Jefferson Boulevard to create a wide, pedestrian-friendly walkway between The Harrison and Embassy Theatre.
The city did $80,000 worth of site-preparation work to the land The Harrison sits on, then sold it to the developers, New Harrison, for $675,000. The deal calls for Hardball Capital, owner of the TinCaps baseball team, to invest $1 million over 10 years into Parkview Field and to pay $50,000 annually for 19 years into a fund that can help New Harrison make their debt payments if the building is not rented.
Money not used by the developer could be spent by the redevelopment commission.
The land is also part of a tax increment financing district, which means the new taxes generated by the development go into a special fund. Normally, that money would be used for infrastructure improvements or to pay off city debt incurred building Parkview Field, but The Harrison deal calls for the first 10 years’ worth of taxes the building generates to be available to cover debt payments if revenue falls short.
Commercial real estate experts have said the building should be able to hit its financial targets, and city officials have said that while there are some safety nets built in to the deal, taxpayers are not on the hook should the deal sour.