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Posted on Sun. Feb. 24, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Rebirth of Anthony Wayne

Building’s rehab pleases tenants

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FORT WAYNE — Not long ago, the Anthony Wayne Building was almost empty – the 15-story office building in the heart of downtown Fort Wayne was essentially dead.

Today, it is coming back to life.

“We’re doing well,” said Todd Ramsey, a partner at the building’s developer, RCI Development. “We’ve got five residents living there, we’ve got six commercial tenants. We’re ahead of where we thought we’d be.”

And those tenants are overjoyed to be there.

“We’re thrilled we stayed,” said Paul Sauerteig, a partner at Snow & Sauerteig law firm.

The firm had been on the building’s 13th floor but had been looking for a new location for five years.

“It was dead,” Sauerteig said of the building. “It was difficult to communicate with the landlord.”

Then RCI Development took over.

Ramsey said the new owners stripped each floor down to the poured-concrete shell and started over with new everything: Electric, plumbing, HVAC and fire suppression.

“When we stumbled on this, it was a shell,” Sauerteig said of the firm’s new 11th-floor space. Not only did the empty floor create a blank canvas to work with, but the views of the Allen County Courthouse are even better, he said.

Instead of looking down on the grand, historic building, you now look directly at it, and the view fills the floor-to-ceiling windows.

“You’re just not used to this kind of skyline views,” Sauerteig said. “It’s not New York, but it’s incredible.”

Even from the 11th floor, the views are dramatic. Looking north you can see to Coliseum Boulevard, to the west and south are the spectacular views of downtown, and on sunny days looking east you can see the wind turbines across the border in Ohio.

“There’s so much light in here,” Sauerteig said during a tour of the firm’s offices. “A lot of these (employees) never had windows before, let alone this.”

And it’s a great value, he said.

“It’s a buyer’s market – the rent is very reasonable,” Sauerteig said. “The landlords are very attentive and have been very good to work with.”

Staying downtown

Janet Roe, president of 111 Design, is so similarly happy with the space that she talked the IT company that 111 Design uses into moving into the Anthony Wayne Building, as well.

“We got to design in the way we want it for our needs,” Roe said. “And the building has nice amenities, like the parking garage.”

Roe said that when the interior-design firm was considering a move from its offices two blocks away, she asked her employees whether they wanted to stay downtown or move to the suburbs.

“Everyone voted to be downtown,” she said. “They feel things are taking shape and moving forward and being more progressive, which is exciting.”

Condos going fast

Ramsey said the condos on the upper floors are disappearing quickly.

“We actually had three showings (Wednesday),” he said. “Depending on the size they take, we may have only one left on the west side of the building.”

The firm has several condo plans to choose from – named after Fort Wayne personalities, real and imagined – but many are buying bigger spaces.

“If they take them the way we have them laid out, we’ll have a couple more left,” Ramsey said, “but people aren’t taking the small ones.”

In addition to other incentives, the city of Fort Wayne had offered a $1 million loan toward the estimated $15 million project. That offer, the developers said, gave them the assurance they needed to get the project off the ground. But the space has been selling so quickly that last year they turned down the loan and continued with private financing.

In addition to the loan offer, the city also assisted the developers in getting $1.25 million in state tax credits for commercial developments in designated urban areas. The developers also received a $40,000 façade improvement grant financed by the city’s community economic development income tax.

Greg Leatherman, executive director of the Redevelopment Commission, said the building’s rebirth is a sign of what’s happening downtown.

“All I hear is good things,” Leatherman said of the building. And more “good things” are coming, Leatherman said.

Sidewalk work

The Redevelopment Commission is seeking bids on a project to remove the eastern lane from Clinton Street and double the width of the sidewalk in that block between Main and Berry streets. The wider sidewalk will feature permanent planters near the street that will create some separation between pedestrians and the traffic.

“It will enable people to walk up and down that stretch of roadway with a bit of security,” Leatherman said. “It will make people feel a lot better about walking up and down that stretch.”

The owners of the two buildings there – the Anthony Wayne Building and The Journal Gazette Building – have agreed to maintain the planters after they’re installed, he said. The project will also repair the alley that runs in the center of the block east and west between Barr and Clinton streets.

Ramsey said the Anthony Wayne Building’s success so far reaffirms the company’s belief in downtown.

“It makes all of us feel really good, especially with all people who called us crazy and said it would never work,” Ramsey said. “We all here at RCI think Fort Wayne is better than people give it credit for. We believe in downtown, and we think it will work.”

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