Changing the Skyline

Living, working, playing downtown

Keep an eye on Fort Wayne's skyline. photography by Christopher Redmond
The Ash Brokerage entrance will be on Harrison Street, with restaurants and retail at street level, and the Skyline Terrace residential tower will rise to the west. photo courtesy of the City of Fort Wayne

Developer and entrepreneur Bill Bean has been investing in downtown Fort Wayne for years, buying up older properties and turning them into functioning, profitable (usually) workspaces. He usually works quietly, but 2014 is the year that his company, Hanning & Bean Enterprises, which he owns with his wife, Rhonda Hanning, is going public in a big way. There’s the new development, but there’s also the company’s contribution to the Three Rivers Festival that resulted in Hanning & Bean’s receiving naming rights to the venerable downtown festival. Get used to seeing the Hanning & Bean name.

Bean said he’d heard that Tim Ash, CEO of his family-owned Ash Brokerage, the nation’s largest private insurance brokerage firm with offices around the nation, was looking to build a new headquarters somewhere in Fort Wayne. Bean saw an opportunity to make a real difference in the downtown he loves.

“The first time we met face-to-face was at SweetCars,” Bean said. “I was there picking up cleaning supplies and was alone in the showroom, and this guy walked up to me.”

Turns out, the guy was Tim Ash. “I was just about to call you,” Bean told Ash.

Ash’s business has grown over the years, and, in 2012, he and his team decided that the firm needed new headquarters. They were looking at properties in southwest Fort Wayne, so that the commute would be the same for his current staff. Eric Doden, then the head of a private equity firm and now president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., encouraged him to look downtown. The “North River” property, across Clinton Street from Lawton Park, was the target, but the land’s owners and Ash couldn’t make a deal.

After that fell through, Bean and members of the city government convinced Ash to look at “downtown downtown.”

“I’d had this idea percolating,” Bean said, that the parking-lot block bounded by Harrison, Wayne, Berry and Webster was ripe for something big that would reshape the face of downtown. It’s a space just under two acres, where Cindy’s Diner sits on one corner and the downtown library and First Presbyterian Church neighbor to the west.

Ash said when the idea of creating a downtown headquarters was broached, his staff was enthusiastic.

“Our workforce of the future wants to be in a vibrant urban setting,” Ash said. “It was really nice to hear the excitement and energy of the team to be in a downtown setting.”

Looking back, this isn’t Ash’s first venture downtown. The company began its life four decades ago in the former Anthony Wayne Building, before it moved to the corner of Harrison and Main, Ash said. But as the company was growing, the downtown was declining. “There wasn’t anything keeping us downtown,” Ash said. So when it outgrew its downtown space two decades ago, the company moved southwest and sold the Harrison building to – no surprise here – Bill Bean.

That was before the Grand Wayne Center expansion, the library expansion, Parkview Field, the Courtyard and The Harrison. Now, coming back downtown makes sense.

“This is really about our community,” Ash said. “We wanted to be a good, a really good corporate citizen of a community we built our business in. We’re proud of Fort Wayne. We also wanted to be a catalyst to other investment. We want to make the city of Fort Wayne more appealing at its core. That was a big deciding factor. We liked the energy we felt.”

‘Contemporary, bold and iconic’

Included in the project are a $11.7 million city-built parking garage, the 16-story Skyline Terrace residential tower and the $28 million Ash Brokerage headquarters. The five-story parking garage will feature a nearly one-acre green space on its roof, with trees, grass and even a dog park for residents. The residential tower will boast 80 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, 13 to 17 condominiums and several penthouse suites. Six row houses will be included in the residential development. A fitness center and event space will be available to residents.

The complex’s design is “respectful to the surrounding” buildings, “while at the same time creating new building space within the core of downtown Fort Wayne that is contemporary, bold and iconic,” according to material submitted to the city. The Ash Brokerage headquarters includes more than 100,000 square feet of office space, of which 68,000 square feet will be used for Ash’s headquarters. The remaining office space will be leased to other businesses. About 19,000 square feet of street-level space will be leased to restaurants and retail businesses. Already, the ground floor retail space has an anchor tenant in Lake City Bank, which is also investing in the project.

The goal is to build the entire structure to meet Silver LEED standards, meaning using an environmentally friendly design and materials, Bean said.

“This is probably the largest single decision I’ve made,” Bean said. He’s committed $32 million for the residential development, while Ash Brokerage is paying $28 million and the city is footing the $11.7 million bill for the parking garage, which will have a mix of public and private spaces. The city will also fund $4.3 million for land acquisition, $2.7 million for site preparation, and another $750,000 for streetscape improvements, according to city spokesman John Perlich, for a total city investment of $19.5 million.

Greg Leatherman is the Community Development director for the City of Fort Wayne. He said the new project meets a lot of the ideals the city looks for in a redevelopment concept.

“We’re getting consolidated parking, more higher-paying jobs added to downtown, retail and high-end housing,” Leatherman said. “There really (are) a lot of boxes checked off with this project.”

Another benefit: The project is 70 percent funded by private dollars. Leatherman noted that in the past decade, the percentage of public versus private dollars being spent on downtown redevelopment has tipped in favor of private development. Ground breaking is scheduled for April, weather permitting.

Mayor Tom Henry said he’s encouraged by the willingness of the private sector to invest in the city.

“The government gets criticized for using taxpayers’ dollars on ventures that aren’t going to succeed,” he said. “If it shows the citizens someone out there is willing to put up a significant investment, to put some skin in the game, to make something work, that raises the comfort level of the taxpayers. At the same time, I think the comfort level of the private investor is raised because the city is … willing to work you.”

“Economic development is about momentum,” Ash said. “We look for the drivers of economic development to take those chances and risks to drive that momentum.”

Henry said the investments by other groups in bringing new housing and retail to the downtown core has begun to speed up in recent years. “These are significant changes to downtown that will help our downtown be an enjoyable place to work and now to live and play,” Henry said. “In order to keep that going, you’ve got to provide an environment that excites people. It’s an exciting time to be a citizen of Fort Wayne.”

First appeared in the April 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.

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