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Posted on Fri. Aug. 15, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Developers eye old Coke plant, St. Joe nurses' dorm, downtown warehouse and former apartment site

Seek city's help in securing state tax credits needed for financing

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They won't all be approved, but developers have asked the city's help in converting four challenged but potentially attractive properties – including a long-vacant soft drink plant and a former nurses' dormitory – into housing.

The developers made their sales pitches Wednesday to the Housing and Neighborhood Services (HANDS) Board, which in October is expected to rank the proposals for consideration for state tax credits needed to finance construction.

A final funding decision isn't expected until early next year, but Deputy HANDS Director Heather Presley-Cowen made it clear merit alone will not decide the projects' fate.

“Fort Wayne has only been getting one (state approval) per year, and that's unfortunate with so many nice projects (proposed),” she said.

Two developers have their sights set on the same property: The vacant Coca-Cola plant on Pontiac Street near South Anthony Boulevard which three years ago was the centerpiece of a $50 million redevelopment proposal by a Chicago firm that ultimately went nowhere. Cincinnati-based Miller-Valentine Group and RealAmerica of Indianapolis hope to do better this time around.

Miller-Valentine's $12.5 million project would convert the plant into 30 residential units and add 25 single-family lease-to-own homes in the surrounding neighborhood, which is included in the city's Renaissance Pointe” area. The former plant would also include a theater, fitness center, community room and other features.

Working with Genesis Outreach, a local housing and support organization working primarily in southeast Fort Wayne, RealAmerica's project would cost about $10 million and would create 43 units in the plant and 20 additional new homes. RealAmerica is currently converting two downtown buildings into housing, one of which – the Randall Lofts at Harrison and Pearl streets – is expected to open this fall.

Developer Kevan Biggs, meanwhile – who has already built several homes in Renaissance Pointe – proposed two projects Wednesday, both of them involving high-profile but mostly empty downtown buildings.

Biggs wants to convert St. Joseph Hospital's former nurses dormitory, built in 1929, into 35 senior apartments. Biggs called the four-story, 33,000-square-foot structure “a gem of a building,” and said he would preserve terrazzo floors and other historic features. Its attachment to the hospital, he said, would assure residents easy access to a variety of medical services.

Biggs also wants to convert the vacant warehouse at Lafayette Street and Washington Boulevard into 38 loft-style apartments, plus 15,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. Apartments in the 100-year-old building, he said, would cater to artists and young professionals. The project would cost about $8.8 million.

Biggs said he would work in conjunction with the local non-profit group Stop Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN), which would own the buildings.

The Model Group of Cincinnati, meanwhile, proposed building 100 apartment or detached units on the former site of the McMillen Park Apartments near South Anthony and McKinnie Street. The 216 World War II-era apartments were razed by the city three years ago, and officials said at the time they hoped to attract new development to the 23-acre site. The city paid $1.1 million for the site and spent $836,000 on demolition.

Company spokesman Tony Fitts said the $15 million project would be modeled after the “Scholar House” program in Kentucky, which provides housing and a variety of services to low-income single parents enrolled in college.

Even if the state approves tax credits for one or more of the projects, financing and other obstacles would have to be overcome before construction could begin.

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


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