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Indoor link from theater to conservatory gets OK

August 25, 2018

The Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board voted Thursday to spend up to $250,000 to improve the neighborhood around Grand Wayne Center downtown.

But the board tabled a request from the NewAllen Alliance for a $4.25 million grant for a package of improvements in small communities in eastern Allen County that could lead to many more millions in state and federal funding.

The $250,000 would pay for construction of a long-awaited covered connector from Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory to a stairwell tower of the neighboring Embassy Theatre.

Both requests were for projects coming back before the board after initial proposals were turned down.

The NewAllen request is part of an application to the state’s Stellar Communities program due next month. The proposal details plans for what is now called the East Allen Rural Revival, a $50 million package of quality-of-life projects.

The alliance already has become one of six Stellar Communities finalists statewide. The competition can award about $9 million for community improvements, including housing, roads and streets, and parks and trails.

The rest of the money would come from local government and private sources.

Reacting to presentations by Kent Castleman, NewAllen’s president, and Kristi Sturtz, the alliance’s rural liaison, some board members questioned whether the projects would be better done with local government funds, not money from the food and beverage tax fund.

Other board members noted the board has many funding initiatives before it, including a recent request for rehabilitating the former General Electric campus south of downtown.

“This is really a stretch for me,” said Tim Pape, a Fort Wayne attorney, on voting for the NewAllen request.

NewAllen came before the board in December 2016 to ask for $2.4 million for projects that have been fine-tuned since. The request is larger this time, Castleman told the Journal Gazette after the meeting, because projects were changed and expanded for the Stellar Communities submission.

He said he told board members the $4.25 million could be paid in annual increments over four or five years. Board President Jim Cook said a special meeting would be scheduled for a vote on the request in the next couple of weeks.

The conservatory’s project, which came before the board several years ago, is now in its finishing stages at a cost of just over $1 million.

An outdoor patio already has been constructed for about $124,000, and an alley between the Embassy and the conservatory has been cleaned up. What remains now is an indoor connector between the two venues, Sheppard said.

The structure would allow indoor pedestrian access to Grand Wayne Center, the downtown Marriott and Hilton hotels, and restaurants and a parking garage, as well as provide proximity to Parkview Field and downtown shopping.

The walkway, planned to be heated and cooled and constructed with glass walls, would mean someone attending a meeting at Grand Wayne Center could easily visit more downtown attractions, Sheppard said.

Grand Wayne Center could use conservatory spaces, already popular for weddings, for additional reception space, she added : something that has already happened.

Sheppard said she could not predict whether the connector would create any jobs, but if it would attract more people to Grand Wayne Center, that would boost the downtown economy.

Board members said they did not want to use money from the food and beverage tax for the conservatory grant. But they said they were willing to pay for the connecting structure from Grand Wayne Center’s operations budget.

rsalter@jg.net

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