City has a “must purchase” agreement no later than January 2024

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –Remember talk of an arena downtown? Or maybe a soccer stadium?

Although there are no formal plans yet for the half block of three fast food restaurants across from Parkview Field, you can bet there’s keen interest in developing the property.

Some call it the Food Block and others have named it Restaurant Row, but it’s safe to say in the next decade the block will look a lot different than it does now – Taco Bell, Rally’s and King Gyros.

Friday at the Allen County Commissioners meeting, developer Don Steininger, who sits on the Capital Improvement Board, said the city will own that property as of January, 2024.

Steininger, Ben Eisbart and Lisa Starks, all volunteer appointees with the CIB, were at the meeting to update commissioners on the board’s activities.

The purchase agreement for the property calls for $6 million to change hands with owner George Huber, Steininger said.

The purchase agreement got started with what Steininger called the “ill-fated attempt for an arena.” In negotiations with Huber, Steininger said the board learned that tax income generated from the three restaurants amounts to about $200,000 a year, so the CIB is reducing the price of the sale by that amount every month until closing.

“We’re set to close anytime this year he elects to do so,” Steininger said, “but we must close by January of 24.”

The lease on Rally’s, a downtown eatery there for 30 years,  and sublease on King Gyros’ expire  in August, Steininger said.

The Taco Bell is leased separately and its lease still has 22 years on it with different options.

“One of the things we are contemplating right now is trying to relocate them (Taco Bell) , rather than having to wait until we have a use (for it) and have to go buy them out. Right now they’re willing to relocate. We think we should probably try to make that happen in the next year, so that we don’t have to have that hanging over us whenever we have a use and then have to come in, buy them out and pay a fortune to move them somewhere else,” Steininger said

In an exclusive interview after the meeting, Steininger said the future for the property “hasn’t been decided yet.”

The other side of the block is owned by the Allen County Public Library.

Other than the Grand Wayne Center, the CIB doesn’t own property, however, the board has embarked on “landbanking,” Steininger said at the meeting. “We don’t have any plan for it yet. Certainly I think any institution realizes the importance of having land around you.  And I think this is what this really boils down to. “

CIB looks to “landbank” and look for available properties for future development

This year,  the board will  establish a relationship with a real estate firm here in town “to be our representative in negotiating the lease and also kind of be our eyes and ears with other land that may be available going north,” Steininger said.

Steininger said the Grand Wayne Center, operated by the CIB with funds from the innkeeper’s tax, could expand into the property. He also predicted a hotel might be right for the property, because with large conventions coming into town, rooms “are maxed out.”

The CIB doesn’t propose projects, but waits for the local redevelopment authority to do that.

“We’re the piggybank,” Steininger said. Revenies from the local food and beverage tax amount to about $8 million a year.

Projects that have been funded or partially funded by the CIB include Electric Works at $43 million, the Ash Center, parking garages downtown and other downtown projects. In the last decade, Steininger estimated that the CIB has invested between $80 and $100 million into projects downtown because that’s where the bulk of the development has occurred.