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Last updated: Fri. May. 09, 2014 - 02:00 am EDT

Parking garage gets basement; public outlay up $20 million

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The Ash Brokerage project — already the largest development project downtown in decades – is getting even bigger.

City officials and private developers announced Thursday that the tower being built for Ash Brokerage will gain a story to accommodate future growth, increasing its footprint from 60,000 square feet to 95,000 square feet, and the city parking garage will gain a basement, enlarging it from 750 parking spaces to 1,200.

When the project was announced in September, the project cost was estimated at $71 million, but officials announced Thursday the investment has grown to $98 million, with $59 million coming from private investment, up from $51 million. The public investment has grown to $39 million, up from last fall’s estimate of $19.5 million.

Officials said most of the reason for the increased investment by the city will be the larger parking garage. Poor soil conditions and the relocation of a sewer line will also add to the city’s cost, which includes land acquisition, site preparation, streetscape improvements, utility upgrades and other project enhancements.

Mayor Tom Henry said the project has grown because of intense interest.

“It’s all I hear about when I go out and talk to people,” Henry said. “When’s it going to be built, Mayor? What’s happening with the project, Mayor?”

Ash Brokerage plans a nine-story office tower where the company will move its 200 current employees and add 115 more. Also in the project is a 17-story tower of 100 townhomes, apartments and condos planned by Hanning & Bean Enterprises.

Both projects will sit on top of a city-owned parking garage, which will be surrounded by street-level retail and row-house style residences along Webster Street.

Between the two towers will be a rooftop garden area. Nearly 24,000 square feet of retail space is planned, and Lake City Bank has already committed to using 4,000 square feet of that space.

Tim Haffner, an attorney for the city, said the larger parking garage will not only accommodate future growth downtown but will also reduce pressure on existing surface lots – which will then make them available for development.

“You don’t do something halfway,” Henry said. “Fort Wayne deserves the very best.”

Officials showed off new renderings of the project and showed a video of what it will look like when it’s complete.

“I have goose bumps on every square inch of my body every time I see (the video) because of the excitement,” Ash CEO Tim Ash said. “We’re excited, and we’re anxious to get started.”

Thursday’s announcement included the news that officials from Ash Brokerage, Hanning & Bean and the city had signed the development agreements for the project, which is expected to begin soon and be complete by the end of 2015.

“I tell you what, we’ll have the press conference on the top floor,” Hanning & Bean’s Bill Bean told the crowd to loud applause. “I’ll see you all there.”

One of the first steps in the project will be moving Cindy’s Diner to the Community Center parking lot at Berry Street and Maiden Lane. That is expected to happen by late June.

Officials say city funding for the project will come from a special taxing district in the area, Legacy Fund money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility, and the Capital Improvements Board, which is funded by a sales tax on food and beverages.

The CIB has already committed $6.5 million toward the project; on Monday, it will be asked for $4 million more to help pay for the larger parking garage.

Also on Monday, the Redevelopment Commission will be asked to pledge Tax Increment Financing money toward the project that will use property taxes on the new buildings to pay for the infrastructure improvements.

On Tuesday, officials will introduce a measure for the City Council to consider using $5 million in Legacy funds. That measure could be debated May 20.

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