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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
On Wayne Street sits a boarded-up building that will be demolished to make way for the construction of the Ash Brokerage project.

Officials: Ash plans on track

Progress made despite lack of downtown construction

It is supposed to forever alter downtown’s skyline. It is supposed to change the face of downtown development by hiding parking, elevating commercial space and featuring street-level retail. It is supposed to breathe new vibrancy into downtown with more residential options.

In short, the $71 million Ash Brokerage project is supposed to be a game changer.

But the game is now behind schedule.

When officials unveiled the much-vaunted project last fall, they said site preparation – including demolition of six existing buildings – was to begin in March so construction could begin in April.

But questions to city officials about the delay were initially answered with a one-paragraph email.

Ash Brokerage plans an eight-story, 95,000-square-foot, $20 million headquarters building on the block bounded by Harrison, Wayne, Webster and Berry streets downtown. The company will move its 200 employees to the new building and add 115 more. Also in the project is a $32 million residential package of 100 town homes, apartments and condos by Hanning & Bean Enterprises. Both projects will sit on top of a $12 million city-owned 780-space parking garage, which will be surrounded by street-level retail.

Sources with knowledge of the situation, however, say officials don’t want to talk about it only because they plan a big announcement in the next few days.

“On the downtown development, positive progress continues to be made on all fronts,” the emailed statement by Community Development Director Greg Leatherman said. “The city is working closely with Ash Brokerage and Hanning & Bean Enterprises. We’re nearing the completion of having signed development agreements to move the process forward. Once the development agreements are completed, we’ll be seeking approval from the governmental bodies that need to approve the public funding portions of the project.”

Mayoral spokesman John Perlich said the lack of visible progress should not raise fears.

“Progress is being made, and we’ve got great partners in Tim Ash and Bill Bean,” Perlich said. “Everything is going well, and the development agreements are nearing complete, which will trigger the next steps in the approval process.”

Tim Ash, president and CEO of Ash Brokerage, and Hanning & Bean’s Bill Bean also say there’s nothing to worry about.

“It’s all positive and all signs are a go,” Ash said Friday. “I believe the city and community are going to be very pleased with what this project brings.”

Bean said that even though work hasn’t started, there’s nothing to indicate the project won’t meet its construction schedule. Construction is expected to take about two years.

“It’s a fairly complicated project, and a lot of pieces have to come together,” Bean said Friday. “Spending time on the front end on the details will pay off tremendously going forward.”

Cindy’s Diner about to change location?

The site looks much as it did when the project was announced, though some of the buildings have been boarded up and Thomas Legal Services moved out of its Berry Street office in recent weeks.

Cindy’s Diner remains on the site, but Fort Wayne Parks Director Al Moll said Thursday that will not be the case for long. The iconic eatery will move about a block northwest from the corner of Wayne and Harrison streets to the intersection of West Berry Street and Maiden Lane, where it will sit on a portion of the parking lot of the Community Center.

The utilities have all been located at the site and Moll said he expects work to begin soon. As far as the actual move for the diner, Moll said attorneys are finalizing the lease, and he expects Cindy’s to move in the next 30 days.

“The lease is drafted and done,” Moll said. “It’s just a matter of getting the attorneys to sign it.”

In October, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission hired Hoch Associates for $875,000 to design the parking garage and coordinate with the architects handling the other parts of the project, and in November, it hired Weigand Construction for $250,000 as construction manager. Leatherman, then in his role as Redevelopment Commission executive director, said a construction manager was vital because each of the three portions will have its own contractors and two high-rises will be built on top of a city parking garage.

The 10 parcels that make up the site were purchased by the Commission in October for $4.3 million. Plans call for using the entire block with the exception of the five-story brick building at Berry and Webster, home to attorneys Shambaugh, Kast, Beck & Williams.

Funding for the city’s portion of the project will come from the Legacy Fund (money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility), the Capital Improvements Board and a special taxing district that covers downtown.