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Council adds funds to Ash parking area

– The massive Ash Brokerage project planned for most of a city block downtown got another boost Tuesday when City Council members voted to dedicate $5 million in Legacy funds toward the development’s city-owned parking garage.

Ash Brokerage is planning an eight-story, 95,000-square-foot, $29 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 $30 million, 17-story residential tower of 100 townhomes, apartments and condos by Hanning & Bean Enterprises. Both projects will sit on top of a city-owned 1,200-space parking garage, which will be surrounded by street-level retail.

The city had been expecting to contribute about $19.5 million from various sources toward the project; that has grown to $39 million, plus $10.5 million in interest and debt costs. Most of the increased cost comes from a larger parking garage, which had been planned for only 750 spaces. Officials say the larger parking garage will accommodate future development downtown but is also made possible by another large expense they hadn’t counted on – increased excavation required by poor soils in the area. The garage is also more expensive to build than originally expected because of the weight and structure requirements needed to support the two towers to be built on top of it.

“It’s not sexy or glamorous to build a parking garage, but it’s critical to downtown development,” City Attorney Tim Haffner said.

Spending Legacy money requires a supermajority of six out of nine council members to approve; the council voted 8-0 Tuesday, with Russ Jehl, R-2nd, abstaining because, as a commercial real estate agent, he helped facilitate the sale of one of the properties involved.

The Legacy Fund is money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility, City Power & Light. As of Jan. 1, there was $51.7 million in the fund. Before the Ash project approval, $17 million was earmarked for spending over the next four years. In that time, the fund will also collect $21 million in payments from Indiana Michigan Power and investment earnings; officials project that at the end of 2017, the Legacy Fund will hold $55.7 million.