Thursday, December 21, 2006

Harrison Square, new plans unveiled for downtown baseball stadium in Fort Wayne

Well the big announcement was made and I have had a chance to look it over. Both major newspapers have stories about it and their statistics contradict each other on several points. This project is still in its planning stages and so I think that some variance should be expected.

To make a long story short the proposal would build a new baseball stadium downtown for the Wizards. This project cannot be started without a new hotel coming to Fort Wayne that has at least 300 rooms... This project would also include a new parking garage that the City would manage, 60 upscale condo's and a small amount of retail space...

After looking the proposal over; it is not as bad of a proposal as I expected.

In my opinion there are several good things about the project:
1. I like the fact that they want to use an entire city block.

2. It sounds like they no longer want to demolish Memorial Stadium. Memorial Stadium will
be paid for on July 1st of 2007. It is a good baseball stadium and I do not think it should
be demolished. I am encouraged that IPFW thinks they may be able to utilize that
facility. This needs to be explored fully.

3. It sounds like the City will not abuse its power of Eminent Domain on this project beyond
its shameful seizure of Belmont Beverage's property over five years ago.

In my opinion there are several bad things about the project:
1. The project hinges on a new hotel being built in downtown Fort Wayne on the property the
City of Fort Wayne shamefully stole from Belmont Beverages with its abuse of eminent
domain. The occupancy rate of Fort Wayne hotels fluctuates between 42% and 49%.
Several new hotels are going to be built in Fort Wayne in the next couple of years on the
north side of town. The City of Fort Wayne should not get into the hotel business...

2. The City plans on building a 1000 space parking garage and having The City manage it.
This is a very bad idea. The City cannot efficiently run a Parking garage!

Many Fort Wayne residents have utilized the Parking garage that is located next to the City
County Building in downtown Fort Wayne. This existing parking garage has room for 985
cars and is about the same size as the proposed new parking garage. I would argue that the
existing parking garage that is next to the City County Building is located in one of the best
possible locations downtown to make money. It is right next to the City County Building and
it is one block from the Jail and the Court House.

Per an independent Fort Wayne CPA named Ron Reinking the City lost approximately $930,052 dollars from 2002 - 2005 on this strategically placed parking garage. This certainly does NOT bode well for a City managed Parking Garage in a location that will draw far fewer people.

There is also another problem with the Parking Garage idea. Half of the parking spaces will
be reserved for Lincoln employees during the work week. This means the parking Garage
will lose even more money each year. Another City Parking Garage will be another money pit that the taxpayers are forced to pay for each year.

3. There are a lot of people saying that the public money will not be coming from tax payers
and that displays a lack of understanding on how government works. All public money
comes from the tax payers... We will be paying for it one way or another.

4. About half of the money from the project will be public money, that is very discouraging.
I would think that a project like this should be almost totally funded with private
investment. Past projects have been built 100% with public money; so maybe I should look at 50% as being an improvement over some of our past mistakes.


I will have to look into the financial side of this project in the future. I have learned not to trust figures for projects that the government provides; they are often inaccurate in my experience.

I will reserve judgment on this project until all of the facts come out. I can say this much; the project as outlined is better then I expected. I do wish that Fort Wayne would stay out of both the Hotel and Baseball business. Fees are skyrocketing in Fort Wayne and I think Fort Wayne should focus on ways to provide the services they provide in a more efficient manner!

Mike Sylvester





17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your comments and insight are very fair and balanced.

I'm 100% behind this project, but I do agree with your points about the parking garage. Someone else needs to manage that.

Anonymous said...

This project will fair miserably. I'm also willing to bet that it will cost taxpayers way beyond the amount they expect us to pay.

I'm fed up with our elected officials doing things that we as a community don't want.

I'm joining the growing movement that says kick em all out.

Kevin Knuth said...

Mike,

you make some very good points. I am NOT an expert on this project but I do want to clear up a few things:

1. Hotel- you wrote "The City of Fort Wayne should not get into the hotel business..." They are not. The city is looking for a developer to build and operate the hotel. The issue of occupancy is also interesting. I know a group that is having an event at the Grand Wayne in 2007. It almost did not happen because there were not 400-700 hotel rooms within walking distance. I wonder how many other such events we have lost for that reason?

2. Financing- Since they are using things like CEDIT and CReED financing, the net effect is that there will be no property tax increase. Only the area being developed gets taxed- so the businesses there are essentially paying the "public" part of the project. Of course, there is SOME expense to all taxpayers- but there are also benefits- more jobs, etc. that make it a plus (in my opinion.)

LP Mike Sylvester said...

Kevin:

1. Of course the City is getting into the hotel business; I have to disagree with you on that. When you spend OVER two million dollars of tax payer money and steal a private business like Belmont Liquors so that a developer can come in and build a hotel you are getting into the hotel business.

Several times the City has tried to draw another hotel downtown and they have failed. Any hotel that builds downtown will receive a large number of tax payer subsidies and I am against that.

Watch and you will see!

When the hotel is actually built I will put together a financial statement and I PROMISE you that the hotel will be subsidized...

2. I only partially agree with you on this.

They use some tricky accounting; however, ANY public money ultimately comes from the taxpayer!

I will do a detailed study on this after it is built...

This will NOT result in a general tax increase; however, it will be paid for by the taxpayers partner.

Mike Sylvester

Anonymous said...

Mike, thanks for your thorough analysis; you're leading the charge as fiscal watchdog!

However, I think you miss the forest for the trees. The future of Fort Wayne is about more than just numbers and tax efficiency. It’s about inspiration! It’s about passion! It's about dreaming! Dreaming of where we might be twenty years from now. Will we be a city of 350,000 with a still-dead downtown and an inferiority complex? Or will we have regained the ability to boast in being a desirable place to live and work – and be from?

Trust me, I believe in lazier-fare policies as much as the next guy. But desperate times call for desperate measures! Fort Wayne has lost it's edge, and it (the administration, the people, the businesses, etc.) need to do WHATEVER it takes to get it back. I mean can you even imagine the Summit building getting built today?! Or the Performing Arts Center? Or even the City-County Building? Or Concordia Seminary? What has happened to our city?! It's floundering psychologically, spiritually, intellectually, economically, and almost every other 'ly! Something has to change! Something has to be done! Bold moves and bold chances are called for now more than ever. And that means the private sector AND the public sector.

I'm convinced the way forward is an emotional thing much more than a numbers thing. Fort Wayner's want to FEEL good about their city again. They want to take pride in saying they’re from Fort Wayne. Right now, that’s the farthest thing from reality. Notwithstanding all the complaining about taxes and being included in the "process", people down deep want what this project delivers - even if they can't bring themselves to admit it! I mean holy cow, we've got two out-of-towners ready and willing to do what no local developers have been willing to do - invest millions in downtown retail and housing and entertainment!!! What a godsend! We should be down on our knees thanking these guys. They're saving us! Really, if they hadn't come along, with their love of baseball and their experience in urban development, do you think a local developer would have stepped up?!?! No way! They’re all too busy building strip malls and big boxes and houses in corn fields to even give a rip about the heart of their city! I thank God these guys came along... they're a gift! A GIFT!

Look, I just bought a building downtown. I plan to move there with my family in the summer. We'll live upstairs while we design and build a house downtown, while simultaneously trying to get a commercial enterprise to occupy the ground floor. Will it work? I don't know. But we’re doing it because we believe a healthy and vibrant downtown is what makes for a healthy and vibrant city - and people! We bought the building sight unseen because we have a dream - not because we have every last dime accounted for. (And don’t take that as elitist; I realize not everybody is called or even able to do what we’re doing. But it’s still a good cause if you can swing it.)

Re: your specific concerns:

1. Kevin addressed it pretty well.

2. I’m tired of the parking “debate”. In my opinion, Fort Wayners will always whine about parking, whether it relates to cost or availability or inefficiency or whatever. Honestly, I’ve never – ever – heard such complaining about parking in my life! I mean really, I parked a rental car on Wayne street last summer, went in to meet somebody, came back out a couple hours later and noticed a ticket on the windshield. I started to complain until I picked it up and saw it was $5.00. Five dollars! I got a parking ticket in NYC last month and it was $95.00! I mean, really! A little perspective, please.

3 and 4. As I’ve said before, is not public money spent every time a new Jefferson Pointe is developed? Or every time a Southtown Whatever is developed? Or a Dupont Crossing? Or a Cherry Hill addition? Or a River Rapids Running Through the Ravine addition? Public money is spent all over the city every day. The question becomes, “Where is that money best spent for the betterment of the City overall?” So if it’s a matter of allocation, IMHO, dollars spent downtown benefit the populace much more than do dollars spent out on Lima or Wallen Roads. And this, in the end, will always be a battle of subjective beliefs rather than objective facts.

In the end, this project delivers what everybody wants: housing, retail, entertainment, hotel, etc. But most importantly it delivers action… movement… change! These are so desperately – DESPERATELY – needed, that I’m more than willing to overlook financial arrangements that are perhaps less than ideal. Again, desperate times call for desperate measures. And when – not if! – the downtown is thriving five years from now, I guarantee you only a handful of naysayers will still be around. I pray you won’t be one of them. ;-)

Bill Hennessey said...

I would love this to work but there are too many things that tell me it wont.
1st. There will be no long term increase in Wizards turnout just because of a new stadium. They are a low class A team that is almost as far from their parent club as you can get. Single A teams don't get the out of towners that the upper level minor league teams get.
2nd. The brainchildren didn't sell this to the public before this week's unveiling. The last time I checked there were a lot of people against this when it was first brought up this summer. People are tired of their officials dictating policy under the guise of its good for your own good. Don't talk down to us. Involve us.
3rd. This is not market-driven. If there was a great need for the proposed hotel then hotel chains would be knocking down the door to do this. They are not.
4th. Planners are basing the success of this project on assumptions based on assumptions.

Jeff Pruitt said...

I work downtown so I'm there every day. I WANT to see downtown grow. We moved our offices down there because we felt it would be an inspirational place to work and would provide us w/ a more conducive work environment than where we were off lima road.

I LOVE working downtown. I'd love to see it to continue to grow and bring more and more people to the area. My biggest complaint is that nobody has convinced me this is the best or most cost-effective way to revitalize the area.

I moved here from a city that HAS revitalized it's downtown area and in an amazing way at that. They did it w/o a baseball stadium and w/o grandiose publicly financed projects...

Karen Goldner said...

Scott, THANKS for such a great post.

LP Mike Sylvester said...

Thanks for the thoughtful answers. This topic brings out varying opinions and a lot of passion...

Bill:

1st. I agree with you on this 100%. The Wizards draw about 3000 people per game and this will continue.

2nd. I also agree with you 100% on this as well. Most polls I have read show that about 2/3 of those polled in Fort Wayne are AGAINST using public money for this project. That is a lot of people...

3rd. Well said. We do not need another hotel downtown. If a hotel company thought they could make money they would build one! Our occupancy rate is UNDER 50% and we are building three new hotels as it is...

4th. This is always the case Bill. I would like to see projected financial statements for this project that go out ten years. The public should know how the financing will look over at least the next ten years.

Scott:

I agree with you that for Fort Wayne to succeed we need passion and inspiration. I think that we can attain both of the above by making Fort Wayne the most "small business friendly" city in the nation. I do not think we have to rebuild downtown Fort Wayne to make Fort Wayne a btter place. I think Fort Wayne MUST stop subsidizing large business and instead do its best to help small businesses.

Fort Wayne would be better off with 1000 sucessful small business rather then 10 large ones...

I do not think you and I differ on our vision; however, we drastically disagree on how to get there. I think we should eliminate all of these special taxing districts and we should stop subsidizing businesses. Instead we should streamline the process and lower the tax rates for everyone. The best businesses will succeed and prosper and the government will not determine who succeeds and who fails.

I am NOT against the Public Sector spending money on projects. I am against spending Public Sector money on projects that 2/3 of the residents oppose and I am against spending Public Sector money to benefit a few select businesses to the detriment of others...

The other thing that no one seems to understand is that dwowntown development is bound to fail if Fort Wayne keeps allowing developers to expand towards the county lines with NO CITY PLANNING...

It is 100% IMPOSSIBLE to develop downtown while allowing developers to continually expand AWAY from the current City limits. We cannot have it both ways. No one seems to understand that simple statement. If you want to develop downtown and "infill" then you have to limit development at the "edges." You are an architect, you must understand this concept!

A MAJORITY of Fort Wayne residents do not want to spend a lot of time or money downtown. That is proven in poll after poll. Why do you want to force them to go downtown? I live on the north side of Fort Wayne and I only go downtown if I must. I prefer to stay on the north side of Fort Wayne. That is a personal decision...

Downtown development is currently something a few people are pushing on the rest of us... I am against that. There are a lot of projects that would enjoy popular support downtown. A Baseball stadium is NOT one of them.

As far as your comment about parking; I think you are not "seeing the forest for the trees." Local government lost almost a million dollars on the City - County Parking Garage in just four years. The City MUST stay out of the parking business. The taxpayers will pay a lot more to subsidize another parking lot. That money could be spent much more efficiently.

Why do you think it is a good idea to spend ten million dollars to build a parking lot that will lose money each and every year it is in operation? The parking garage makes NO SENSE and should NOT be built.

I do agree with you that public money is spent on projects all over Fort Wayne. I want to see the City spend less on wasteful projects and instead lower the tax rates for everyone!

I am NOT a "naysayer." If you read my original post I have agreed that this project is not as bad as I expected... I listed 3 good things about the project and 4 bad things. I can see postive and negatives on this topic.

Naysayers are against it at all costs. That does not describe me

Those blindly in favor see NOTHING BAD ABOUT THE ENTIRE project and that is equally disturbing Scott. You are an architect, I am sure there are things about this project that you dislike!

After re-reading your post I would say that I might "categorize" you as an optimist who refuses to see some of the pitfalls with this project! The biggest problem is this City Parking garage idea. It will lose AT LEAST 1 million dollars every four years and we will lose another 10 million dollars the day it is built Scott! Surely this money could be better spent!

I enjoyed reading your post Scott and I am glad you are coming back to Fort Wayne!

Like you I have lived a lot of different places. I have lived in places with great dwontowns and I have lived in places that have wasted BILLIONS of dollars on their downtown... Both options are possible in Fort Wayne. I will do my best to ensure the latter option does not happen!

Mike Sylvester

Anonymous said...

Mike,

Wow! With two smalls kids, where in the world do you find the time to write such long posts/comments?! ;-)

Anyway, thanks for being charitable in your response to my comments. My fear is always that, given the limitations of the medium, readers won't grasp the nuances in other's comments; you did a good job of it, though.

Responses:

1. I'll have to defer to you on the whole small biz vs. big biz thing in FW in relation to city favoritism, because I have no experience there. I'll take your word for it.

2. I absolutely, positively, unequivocally believe that downtown revitalization must - MUST! -occur for the future health of this city. I will never be persuaded otherwise. And we'll just have to disagree on this point.

3. Re: taxes, while I agree with you that they should be as low as possible, I believe the crisis at hand needs to transcend the tax discussion.

4. I think the "2/3% opposition" is a bad statistic based on a flawed study. Kind of like those terrible exit polling surveys. I don't trust it! In addition, American government, either local or federal, is not based on strict democracy. We elect representatives to represent us, not simply poll us every time to see which way they should vote. Indeed, the recent referendum phenomenon is a little disturbing.

5. I can't see how strengthening the downtown will adversely effect small businesses. Don't know what you thought of Reagan, but you have to admit the realities of trickle-down economic theory. "A rising tide lifts all boats," he used to say. Same here.

6. Again, I disagree with your assertion that a majority of people don't want to spend time and money downtown. And if polls say that, they're just plain wrong. Notwithstanding your personal choice, I believe it's the exact opposite; government, by way of bad zoning, has forced sprawl on an unwitting populace who would LOVE to spend less time in their cars and more time meandering through pedestrian-friendly city-centers. This is a huge topic; I'll try to address some of it on my own blog soon.

7. Agree with you 100% re: bad zoning that favors sprawl. This needs to change, though it will be hard in an area where cheap farmland and cheap construction abound, and it need not necessarily change before investing in downtown.

8. Though I haven't analyzed every aspect of the development, I'm sure if I did I might find something I didn't like. Maybe it would be the parking garage. Maybe the location of the third base line. Maybe the design style of the townhouses. Sure. But I believe that momentum and a "get-it-done" mentality is more important right now than all those things, or even making all the numbers work. Every building is not going to be perfect, and subsidies happen all the time all over the city; if this development includes a little of both, fine by me.

9. Lastly, I appreciated your honest attempt to balance your criticisms with approvals. But I must say I think your approvals were barely noticeable, and your criticisms were narrowly focused (no offense intended!) and blown way out of proportion. I'm mean really, are you not impressed that an outside developer is pouring $60M into downtown housing, retail, etc., when no local developer would take the risk? Sixty new townhouses downtown in two years! That's incredible! Absolutely unbelievable, but you didn't even mention it. Did you overlook it, or do you really not think it's a positive? And as for parking... well...

Funny how libertarians can disagree on so much. ;-) (Although at this point, you're probably thinking I'm not much of one. But trust me, I voted for Browne twice and... oh, I forget his name, once. ;-) ) Anyway, keep up the good work, and I'll do the same. When we're back and moved in (hopefully a couple blocks from the stadium!), we'll invite you and your brood over for dinner, followed by a evening stroll to the Wizards game, followed then, depending on how your diet is going, by a stroll to the local ice cream shop for cones. That'll be nice.

Scott

LP Mike Sylvester said...

Scott:

Thanks for the GREAT comments. I will try to respond as best I can!

1. It is sad how Fort Wayne subsidizes large businesses almost entirely!

2. While we most likely do disagree on this point; do not think I am against downtown. I am against downtown plans that will NOT work... The ONLY WAY to revitalize downtown is to limit expansion on the edges of Fort Wayne. That is not currently happening. You cannot expand towards the County line and revitalize downtown at the same time. It will not work.

3. We will just have to disagree on the tax discussion partner! The taxes we force people to pay is critical to the growth of Fort Wayne. I want them low and consistent!

4. We will have to disagree on this one as well. I truly do think that 2/3 of Fort Wayne is AGAINST spending public money on moving our baseball stadium downtown. I have talked to a lot of people in my neighborhood about it; almost all of them oppose the idea...

Realize that I live on the very northern edge of Fort Wayne... I imagine you would get different results in areas closer to downtown.

5. Improving downtown like this will hurt quite a few small businesses, let me give you two specific examples:

a. Belmont Beverages. The owner ran a successful downtown business for many years. He operated downtown and spent his money and energy making his business work. The City stole it from him and then took well over five years to decide what to do with the property they obtained at a cost to the taxpayers of over two million dollars. You cannot think this has helped him can you?

b. Many existing hotels will be hurt if the City subsidizes a new hotel that will end up taking business from existing hotels. How is that fair?

6. I dislike sprawl just like you. I spent some time in France last year in a City called Grenoble. The City was designed for walking and I LOVED it.

I have spent some time in Brooklyn as well and I loved all of the Deli's and little shops intermixed with the "brownstones."

That being said, Fort Wayne is NOT designed for walking and the poeple who live in Fort Wayne do not want to walk.

Fort Wayne has a complete LACK of City planning.

My Uncle is a City Planner in "The Twin Cities." He is appalled by the lack of planning in Fort Wayne.

For your vision to work Fort Wayne would have to be willing to limit expansion at the edges. When you move back to Fort Wayne PLEASE attend some of the meetings of the City planning committee. This group will "rubber stamp" ANY proposal that ends up developing ANYTHING.

I have seen groups of Homeowners get SQUASHED repeatedly in Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne will do ANYTHING any developer wants to do.

I actually WOULD like to live in a pedestrian friendly City; alas I do not. You cannot MAKE Fort Wayne pedestrian friendly without tearing the City down and building it again.

7. We will have to disagree on this one I guess. I do NOT think we should pour money downtown into questionable projects while allowing developers to build wherever and whatever they want. I do not think it will work.

8. I have heard several other people I respect say almost the same thing as you. I have one client who said the EXACT same thing as you.

I think there are a lot of people who are tired of talking and want action, even if that action is not the best project possible.

9. I guess I will have to look into this topic further. Maybe the 60 million dollars is more then I think it is...

As far as the Parking Garage goes; I think it is a TERRIBLE idea. It will lose money each and every year it is in operation the way it is proposed! It makes NO SENSE.

I never said I did not think you were a Libertarian Scott. I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE DO THAT. I have had several poeple tell me I am not really a Libertarian. I have been called "Libertarian Light" and all kinds of things.

We should not agree on everything.

I would love to check out your place downtown and meet you and your brood. I LOVE taking my kids out and showing them off!

I have a proposal for you Scott!

How about you and I make a friendly bet. I want to bet that when I analyze the new Parking garage during its first full year of operation that it will have lost AT LEAST $250,000 the first year.

How about the loser pays for the tickets to the baseball game for both families?

Mike Sylvester

Jeff Pruitt said...

I'd like to wager if your wager will induce a raid of your residence by the excise police?

Sorry, couldn't resist...

Anonymous said...

Mike, though Christians tend not to gamble, I'll take your bet. For me, though, it's a win-win wager. If the garage is profitable, we get to enjoy a game for free. If it's not, we still get to enjoy the game, although this time with the added benefit of treating a family from the burbs to the same enjoyment.

But go for it! Run the numbers, and keep the City honest! ;-)

PS - Great responses, and good discussion overall. Thanks for allowing me to join it.

LP Mike Sylvester said...

Jeff:

I hope they have better things to do with their time!

Mike Sylvester

LP Mike Sylvester said...

Scott:

It is a win-win bet for me as well...

If the City does NOT lose money on that Parking Garage then I will have been proven WRONG and I am more then willing to "treat" you to a game.

If the City loses money on this new Parking Garage (Which it will) then I get to expose that fact to the public and we can discuss the project further...

Mike Sylvester

Anonymous said...

Perfect, then, nobody can lose. I like those kinds of bets. You're on! ;-)

Anonymous said...

It is a good idea to have a catalyst project to promote growth in our downtown. However, is a ball diamond and a new hotel really the smartest and best catalyst project? A majority of the ball diamond would only be used a few months of the year. It may have parks and a restaurant incorporated into the design, but it really does not make sense...right now.

The city has had a lot of great experiences and good times with crazy pins, the Dome, the Plex, Putt Putt, Pages Crossing, and more. These type of businesses do really well and are very popular. Why not do something on a large scale that incorporates all of these sporting concepts or an indoor water park? A much larger percentage of this concept could be utilized all year long. It would still warrant additional downtown eateries, shopping, and living.

The hotel: We already have a diamond in the rough. If no one is willing to buy and rennovate the Holiday Inn because they cannot get a return on investment, why would they invest even more money into a new hotel and expect a return on investment? Perhaps that is one of the reasons only ONE company submitted a proposal for the new hotel and even they have not signed a binding contract, as far as I know. In addition, the occupancy levels of the existing hotels do not warrant another hotel; even if the Grand Wayne Center did bring in a few more conventions.

The Grand Wayne Center complains that they almost lost a convention or two because there were not enough hotel rooms. We build another hotel for one or two conventions? Then what; three hotels downtown sitting at 45 - 49 percent, or less, occupancy levels? There are other things beyond a hotel challenging the Grand Wayne Center from getting large conventions. The airport, for example, is a distance from the convention center and expensive to utilize. There is not a lot to do downtown, which is what we are dealing with here, so why not pick smart things to compliment the Grand Wayne Center. I believe a new hotel, and especially a ball diamond, will not help Grand Wayne Center thrive.

Finally, the parking garage. If anything does happen in that area, I do believe a parking garage will be necessary. Have you ever gone to an event at the Embassy or Grand Wayne Center when multiple things are going on downtown? The parking garage across from the Hilton is packed; it really doesn't take much because you have office buildings, a hotel, a convention center, botanical gardens, and a theater all using one little garage. If the city does complete a catalyst project, which I hope that it does, then I think you will find that it will demand another parking garage.