FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — A major proposal by Eric Doden’s DOMO Development for Fort Wayne’s riverfront announced on Monday includes a series of projects totaling $1.5 billion.
That proposal was both a surprise and Déjà vu for several small, local businesses and homeowners.
Proposed sites cover 60 acres from Sherman Blvd. to Science Central.
One location where a proposed mixed-use building would exist is along Superior Street next to Promenade Park. That’s also where TJ Nowak Supply is currently located.
Jason Summers, the president and CEO, and Scott Sherman, the Chief Operating Officer, both spoke with WANE 15 Monday morning.
They said this isn’t the first time a proposal popped up that included the land where their business is. It happened around 2017 when Riverfront Phase I was first being discussed.
Just like a handful of years ago, the bosses at TJ Nowak Supply had to start assuring customers that they aren’t going anywhere.
“We were talking about that this morning to figure out how we’re going to tell our employees and our customers ‘We’re still here. We’re not going anywhere,’ because nobody has said anything to us directly other than the news. That’s all we’ve heard about it from,” Sherman said.
Just like in 2017, they weren’t approached before a proposal that included their land was released to the public. The last time around, they contacted city leaders and had lengthy conversations.
They were willing to sell in the name of downtown development, but it would have to be at a high enough price to pay for the land and cover the cost of completely moving the business to another suitable location.
According to Summers and Sherman, the city requested they come up with a proposal of what they would need to relocate. They spent 18 months and tens of thousands of dollars coming up with a proposal that would work at that time, but the city wasn’t interested, they said.
“We told the city exactly what it would take at that time. It could be more [now]. We’re not in a position — unless someone wants to make us whole — to move. Otherwise, it doesn’t serve us any good to move,” Summers said.
The business has been a staple there for decades and has added buildings over the years. They’ve done what they can to be positive members of the community. That includes having a mural painted on the side of their east building that faces Promenade Park.
“We support the downtown development. We support everything that’s going on around us. We are great community stewards, but — as Jason said – we’ve been here since 1946. We have 40-plus employees that are here, and we have to look out for that and the future of our business,” Sherman said.
They don’t know if someone will eventually meet a price that can make them whole at another location. Even if the current proposal for riverfront development is selected, Summers doesn’t see any sort of movement on proposed projects for several years; However, he believes there’s one particular reason this is all being discussed now.
“I think it’s really good, probably, to get people engaged and involved. It is a re-election time,” he said.
On the north side of the river, the DOMO Development proposal also includes an arena, mixed-use developments and parking along High Street.
Another small business, Wagner Tool Grinding, Inc. has been there for decades. Chad Geyer is the third owner of the business, which he said is easy to access for customers at its downtown location.
After years of seeing the same type of proposals and thinking “They’re coming for us,” he was surprised on Monday to see a new proposal that includes the land where his business is located.
Still, he said he would move the business for the right price.
“I have a few years left before I retire. So, I would definitely have to have a high price to move my machines,” Geyer said.
That being said, he knows that won’t be the case for the nearby homes in the 500 block of High Street.
“There’s a lot of families that live up and down this area, and they’re probably afraid — when they see that plan — that they’re going to have to move,” he explained.
The president of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood Association, Chris Walker, said he’s tried to assure people that if they own their home then they can keep it.
“There’s businesses that have been here that are a multi-generational business… We have families that have been in this neighborhood. On this street right behind me [500 blk. of High Street], there’s a family that’s been here for three generations,” Walker told WANE 15. “The grandparents owned the house. The parents [owned it] and now the children, and for that to be developed, to have mixed-use on this site, I feel like we’re taking away some of the fabric of the neighborhood.”
Some properties in the neighborhood have already been sold and demolished, and others have been purchased by DOMO Development, according to Walker.
Still, he’s trying to ease the minds of homeowners worried about eminent domain. He said many people have worried about making improvements to their homes only to be forced to sell.
Walker said he tells people eminent domain is much harder to achieve.