Columbia streetscape plan tabled
The Fort Wayne City Council delayed a decision Tuesday on a $1.4 million contract for streetscape improvements along Columbia Street at The Landing.
Concerns about the project were raised by Councilmen Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Paul Ensley, R-1st, during a news conference early Tuesday. Council voted 8-1 to table the contract.
The streetscape improvements were a source of contention last year when the council approved new rules governing loans from the city’s Legacy Fund. The Landing received a loan from the Legacy Fund, but Ensley and Jehl raised concerns at the time over how the streetscape improvements would be funded.
Jehl authored an amendment to the loan agreement that gave council the option to reopen it should the developer return to the table with a request for future funding.
“We simply cannot head down this track without extreme caution,” Jehl said at Tuesday’s news conference.
Mayor Tom Henry’s administration contends that the streetscape improvements are separate from The Landing, a $35 million mixed-use downtown development project being developed by The Model Group.
According to documents filed with the City Council, the streetscape improvements would remove existing sidewalks and asphalt pavement and create a “pedestrian-friendly streetscape plaza which would eliminate the curb and incorporate the street with the surrounding sidewalk areas.”
The streetscape improvement contract was awarded to Strebig Construction pending council’s approval.
“These funds are not going to The Model Group,” Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend told the council.
The Landing project is clearly defined as the renovation and rehabilitation of seven buildings and the construction of one new building, she said.
“This is streetscape work that we have done in almost every single other situation wherein private development has invested millions of dollars into a project,” Townsend said.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Ensley said because the money would come from the same funding as neighborhood improvements for streets and sidewalks, the request would deprive neighborhoods of repairs in favor of downtown.
“Frankly, it’s a little bit offensive that ... an already publicly subsidized project is going to get $1.4 million of streetscapes when we have crumbling infrastructure in the 1st District,” Ensley said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “We have folks that have been waiting on the five-year plan for seven, eight years. Certainly, we cannot move forward with this at this time.”
It’s not yet clear when the contract will return to the City Council table for further discussion. Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, was the sole vote against tabling the proposal.