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Opening Arguments

Secret Square

The story of how the city quietly acquired the property for Harrison Square:

It wasn't an easy task for Greg Leatherman and Bill Martin: track down 32 different owners of 50 properties and negotiate to buy their homes, businesses or empty lots.

They had little leverage

Posted in: Our town


Mon, 01/29/2007 - 8:47am

This IS a huge success. The city cut down the amount of public money needed by secretly buying the properties. Eminent domain wasn't needed because the property owners willingly sold.

I think Harrison Square will happen. There will be a hotel developer and the City Council will approve the financing.

This is the most significant downtown investment in many, many years. I don't think the city is putting all their eggs in one basket. They're just focused on making this project happen in order to set the stage for future downtown investment.

Mon, 01/29/2007 - 10:47am

"They're just focused on making this project happen in order to set the stage for future downtown investment."

Yeah, exactly what they were doing when they built the Grand Wayne, the Hilton and Midtowne Crossing. Just look at all of the investment spurred by those.

C'mon, if even the Hilton's own restaurant can't make a go of it with all the added convention business, what makes anyone think that retailers and restaurants will want to be anywhere near this steaming pile of bad ideas?

Jeff Pruitt
Mon, 01/29/2007 - 11:41am

I don't buy the idea that they got the property on the cheap. Looking at some of the properties in question I would say they paid at least 400% market value (before this project).

Besides, they did announce that they were buying the property "for a significant public investment". Does it really matter what the EXACT project was? Anyone w/ an ounce of sense would know this makes their property more valuable.

This article is just another PR stunt by the city to try and convince people that they are on the right track w/ this project...

Mon, 01/29/2007 - 12:06pm

They are already "right." Certain people made assurances that, based upon their connections and "pull," that a new stadium would be built. Bets were made and now the city is covering their play. Yawn. Old story in Fort Wayne. Who's to stop it? Newspapers? Hah! The JG just did its best to shill for the project, and the NS will stay silent, hoping that someday it will have the same "friends" as its morning competitor.

Jeff Pruitt
Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:43pm


I've made a FOIA request to the individual council members regarding any and all communications between themselves and Hardball Captical BEFORE they took over the Wizards. If you have information about any such communication then I would strongly encourage you to provide that to the public.

tim zank
Mon, 01/29/2007 - 4:01pm

Holy Moly Jeff...you and Knuth got your eyes on the "Woodward & Bernstein" consolation prize?

Mike Sylvester
Mon, 01/29/2007 - 5:08pm

Tim Zank:

You and I agree on an awful lot; however, I see NOTHING wrong with Jeff Pruit filing FOIA requests on this issue.

We need an open and transparent government for Democracy to work and the truth of the matter is our Government is NOT open and transparent.

Mike Sylvester

tim zank
Mon, 01/29/2007 - 5:16pm

I agree Mike, It was meant as more tongue in cheek than a slam.

Steve Towsley
Mon, 01/29/2007 - 6:15pm

>...adds to the impression most people have
>that it's a done deal, whether people want it
>or not.

I'm not sure I agree this is a mere public impression. I think a lot of people impressed by their own influence really think the "done deal" is the fact of the matter. How else do expect some of the "when not if" language in recent news updates on the proposed project?

I got tim's dry humor, as well as Jeff Pruitt's reasonable concern that some politicians are trying to "outwit" the voters. A bad strategy for an elected official, though some in this case may be perfectly content to retire in disgrace as long as a downtown ballpark is a footnote in their published legacies. Troubling grandiosity, ain't it?

Steve Towsley
Mon, 01/29/2007 - 6:17pm

Hellfire. The above post's typo should have read, "How else do you explain some of the..."

Sorry for my over-haste.

Mon, 01/29/2007 - 6:42pm

I don't believe these pols are even thinking about their legacy. By the time we have our taxpayer-subsidized ballpark and foreclosed-upon hotel, they'll be long gone, just like the folks who brought us the Grand Wayne, the Hilton and Midtowne Crossing.

The only difference is that this time around they don't have a Helene Foellinger to put up all the "funny money" that private investors weren't (and still won't be) willing to risk.

It's premature for the J-G to be saying that a hotel developer will be chosen from a pool of finalists in March given that there is no such thing. Remember this in March when they report that negotiations have "fallen through," or some such crap, but because the city has spent all this money buying up the property it now feels compelled to go ahead and build it anyway without a hotel developer.

Tue, 01/30/2007 - 5:42am

Jeff, I would be delighted to help with your efforts, but in a less public forum. This city has a way of punishing dissent. Is there a better way to reach you?

For Mr. Morris: How is that investigation into the hanging death of William Steckbeck at the county jail going? You remember Mr. Steckbeck, the 39 year-old sentenced to 90 years in prison for $14,000.00 worth of property crimes (burglaries)? The investigation was supposed to start last June. Any updates?

Tue, 01/30/2007 - 5:46am

"They're just focused on making this project happen in order to set the stage for future downtown investment."

From today's JG:
[Mayor Richard] said the city is looking at fostering development just north of the river downtown, even while it works on Harrison Square.

Harrison Square isn't the only project to happen in the next decade, unlike the bleak decade we just got out of. Harrison Square is only the beginning of downtown investment. Read the BlueprintPlus plan, there's a lot more left to do.

Tue, 01/30/2007 - 5:49am


If there's no hotel, there's no Harrison Square, period. If that occurs, the city will come up with another proposal for the land, for which the people will have a knee-jerk revolt reaction against, and the cycle will continue.

Bob G.
Tue, 01/30/2007 - 6:31am

Alex, if there is ANY solution to be found here, it would come down to one simple equation...


And just wait until the city/county tries to annex all the way past Harlan...(because they'll HAVE to)...!


Jeff Pruitt
Tue, 01/30/2007 - 11:05am


You can send me an e-mail by clicking on my name in the "Posted by" field underneath any of my comments

Steve Towsley
Tue, 01/30/2007 - 2:43pm

scott wrote:
>Harrison Square is only the beginning...

Yeah. That's what the people are afraid of, if their input is ignored. Scott, it's very transparent and baseless partisanship on the ballpark issue to assert that the people will revolt against every alternative proposal and create some sort of "cycle."

All you really know about downtown development is that most voters don't want to include a ballpark in the master plan for Fort Wayne's central business/metro district.

What some "city fathers" think is a great idea is seen by 70-72% of the people who live here as a failed trial balloon. I suggest Mayor Graham and the City Council buy another tank of helium and try again. Only in totalitarian countries do you see one choice on a ballot. Why are there no alternative uses being presented for consideration?

The measure of success isn't about landing a big money deal, it's about the proper uses of our urban business center. The people who are most wrong here are those who believe everybody else is crazy for not co-signing the ballpark proposal. And we are not about to be cowed by threats that the current opportunists' proposal will die without their stadium. In fact, we should be grateful for the red-flag insight into this scheme.

Tue, 01/30/2007 - 7:08pm

Harrison Square is not the master plan for downtown Fort Wayne. The Blueprint Plus is the master plan. Harrison Square is only one component of that plan.

If anyone has any ideas for alternative uses that would draw 300,000 people per year downtown like baseball is expected to, then I would encourage them to write an editorial about it. I'd be interested in hearing about it, seriously.

Why is fighting against an investment in Fort Wayne a good thing? Let's say that after much public backlash, for some reason the project is cancelled. What was gained from that happening?
Did you avert an increase in property taxes? No.
How is it an accomplishment to have the most significant downtown investment in years fall apart?

Wed, 01/31/2007 - 5:13am

What good is the most significant investment in years if it's not invested in the right things?

A bunch of empty storefronts you can't lease and condos you can't sell is hardly more desirable than the parking lots they replace. And another hotel competing with two that are barely making it is simply ridiculous.

It's a crock to pretend that other businesses will open up and feed off of all the traffic because there won't really be any except during games. People will have their hot dogs and beer in the stadium and then go home, just as they do now from a different location.

Grand Wayne and Midtowne didn't attract any new business. In fact, restaurants have been disappearing around them, not increasing. It has taken twenty-plus years for the Hilton and Midtowne to even be marginally successful.

I have an idea that's not so grand, but it will bring more people downtown than the ballpark ever will. Get Tom Spiece to move his sports facility downtown from its location out north. This is a huge attraction that draws people to Fort Wayne from all over. It's a business that's definitely riding a trend -- people need constructive things for their kids to do, and he provides it.

Really, the city could do a whole lot more to get employers to locate downtown. That's the key to bringing people, retail and restaurants back.

Wed, 01/31/2007 - 6:38am

To Scott:

Here is one very easy answer to your question. A 12 screen movie theatre, with only 100 patrons per screen per day (or about 20 patrons per movie shown) would bring far more people downtown than your beloved baseball stadium.

And, there would be no shortage of private entities interested in getting involved if the city offered to pay 85% of the capital costs, donate the land, and provide a long-term lease pegged to barely cover the city provided maintenance and upkeep. The cost to the city would be a fraction of 25 million and, I think, the presence of such a theatre would be far more attractive to would be hotel guests, condo owners and retail merchants than a single A baseball stadium.

You and the mayor can keep shilling for this boondoggle and shouting "its about private investment, not a baseball stadium" all you want. The stadium is the turd on the living room floor and you can't hide it by focusing on the pretty new rug it is staining.

Jeff Pruitt
Wed, 01/31/2007 - 6:44am

Isn't is wrong to assume that these businesses can survive simply by having the baseball crowd come downtown? I mean what are they going to do the other 300+ days? And if they have to survive 300+ days w/o the stadium, then why can't they survive the full 365? The whole concept of baseball spurring downtown development is based on faulty logic...

Wed, 01/31/2007 - 7:43am

You guys have good ideas, but don't just tell me about them. Write an editorial about it. A youth sports complex downtown at the present Omnisource location has already been mentioned in the Blueprint Plus Plan. I would like to see that happen.
Downtown theaters would be great if developers can convince people to watch a movie downtown instead of going to the suburban megaplexes.
I'm not saying Harrison Square is the end-all solution. I want to see a lot more development downtown. However, this development actually has a chance of happening, which is why I support it.
If you guys feel strongly about your ideas then I would encourage you to write an editorial about it. It would be great to have people talking about other possibilities for Fort Wayne's downtown.

Steve Towsley
Wed, 01/31/2007 - 9:05am

Scott --
I appreciate your willingness to acknowledge the value of the comments on this thread, but don't insist that everyone publish them in some special way in order to merit serious consideration. It is a lot easier and more reliable for most people to express themselves on Leo's blog than it is for them to succeed in convincing a newspaper to publish their remarks as a series of guest editorials.

Perhaps an editorial should guide readers to threads like this one, instead.

Wed, 01/31/2007 - 9:59am

Steve, I said that I would encourage writing an editorial, I didn't insist on it. Whatever gets more people talking about their city is great.

Wed, 01/31/2007 - 6:17pm

Sorry I missed all the back and forth earlier, but the other 'scott' did a fine job defending HS.

There was one comment by 'alex', however, that nearly knocked me off my chair (alex, please don't take personal offense, I'm just stunned at the idea, not you): "A bunch of empty storefronts you can't lease and condos you can't sell..." This is nearly incomprehensible, and is one those statements that usually illicits an "I won't dignify that comment with a response" response, but seeing how way too many people believe it, I simply must take issue. Alex, do you (and others) realize that of the four components of the initial phase, the condos and ground floor commercial spaces are the ONLY ones that Hardball is financing 100% by themselves? Do you realize what that means?! It means that those two parts are the ONLY ones they believe will be absolutely profitable at the purely market-driven level! (They need public subsidies for the stadium, and opted out of the hotel, I believe because they're not convinced of its ROI.) I mean, come on, these guys know how to make money! Do you really - I mean REALLY! - think they'd throw away tens of millions of dollars on 'empty storefronts and unsellable condos?! Or do you just think they're clueless and/or imcompetent? Haven't run the numbers, maybe? Done due diligence? I mean what?! Please help me out here.

The point being, too many people think this is just FW politicos wasting tax-payer money on self-aggrandizing pipe dreams. IMHO, nothing could be further from the truth. Though I haven't talked with the Mayor, I have talked with many other officials involved, and all I ever come away with is evidence of a common concern for improving downtown and thereby the entire city. And notwithstanding the unbelievable local cynicism, they've had those sentiments for a while. The only reason it's getting traction now is because experienced outside developers are giving it financial teeth. (As the other 'scott' continues to convey, we should be praising God! for Hardball!)

Again, 'alex', nothing personal, I'm just at a real loss. Am I missing something?

Steve Towsley
Wed, 01/31/2007 - 7:44pm

So there's a scott little 's' and a Scott capital 's'... Looks like a tag team?

Scott, who says the plan is "getting traction now?" Somebody that can't read polls?

Maybe the reason that there is "unbelievable" local cynicism is that there are a lot of rabid sports fans here who know exactly what a stadium will do to the downtown environment. Heck, I like Alex' IMAX theater idea, as one of the potential alternatives -- we should have had an IMAX here before this, and a downtown location makes all kinds of sense.

The stadium idea is not quite DOA, but there is a lot about the big picture that we haven't yet been told. The developers should not expect confidentiality where this is concerned, either about the plans to assure city streets can handle the traffic, about the willingness to clean up after a crowd as big as the 4th of July fireworks every night there is a game, or about their bright ideas for additional uses for the stadium when a game is not scheduled. We have a right to know the complete strategy for maximizing the profit of such a ballpark. I guarantee, there is NO WAY this stadium would be limited to minor league baseball events. I guarantee that. If they can't or won't give us a list of the other types of events they think are appropriate for their stadium's use, then I'd say they have no legal standing to build it. Full disclosure is a requirement for a public project such as this. It is not a private commercial enterprise, and we citizens have, I think courts will agree, the final say as to the limits of such an enterprise. We also have a right to veto the project if necessary street improvements are being ignored which will create traffic delays 3 to 4 times as long as the trains we used to have to put up with. We didn't reroute the railroad so we could suffer even longer traffic delays thanks to an inadequately engineered and funded sports destination.

If the object is to get people downtown, then profit-taking is secondary to the city's mission of revitalizing downtown. It is quite possible for Fort Wayne to re-develop downtown, in the black, without anybody having to get rich over it at our expense, if only you plan it right.

Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:31am

To Scott:

Your statement that the condos and retail space are "100% private investment" and "purely market driven" are false. I do not know if you do not understand the project (and, in fairness, the information the City is providing is not intended to promote understanding) or if you are so enamored of the project that you are willing to "cheat" a little on the facts.

First, in all the public announcements concerning the project, we are told, for example, that the condos will have an "estimated value" of $12 million for the Phase 1 60 unit development. Is that a statement of the dollar investment Hardball Capital will make in the condos, or a projection of what they might be worth when completed assuming perfect demand?

Second, Hardball Capital is being given the land (for which the City has just paid millions) and, it appears, may be getting the Phase 2 land as well, with no clear commitment to develop it rather than just flipping it to someone else for cash.

Third, Hardball Capital is getting tax credits valued in the millions for the phase 1 development.

Fourth, the City, not Hardball Capital, is paying for infrastructure improvements for the project, apparently including those that may be required for condos and retail. Typically, those are developer costs.

Fifth, there is no way of knowing the true extent of the public subsidy without knowing the terms of the stadium lease. Only a fool would think these things are negotiated in isolation. Need a little extra enticement to build condos? How about we give you all the lease revenue from all the luxury boxes? A bigger cut of the parking fees? Concessions?

The condos, retail and hotel are NOT 100% private investment. How far off from that figure they are remains hidden.

Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:14am

@mark: All right, I'll assume you're right about the financing and acknowledge I was wrong to assume 100% and "purely market driven". Thanks for correcting me. However, I guess my larger negative reaction, which I didn't illustrate well, is that 'alex' and others continually and relentlessly purport as fact that nobody will ever want to live or set up shop downtown. "A bunch of empty storefronts and condos you can't sell..."? I mean really, does he believe that? Or is it just provocation? Either way, it's not true! I'm currently in the process of buying a 100-year-old downtown building with the intention of renovating it for commercial and residential use (my own family's, btw). And I know a few others who are doing the same thing - right now, even before HS. And it's not because we're looking to flip and run, but because we love the city and particularly her downtown, and we want her to shed her inferiority complex and come alive again with pride. Like she once had, but seems to have lost.

Re: tax credits and infrastructure, of course the city is involved. But unless you oppose the very idea of tax credits, it really just comes down to where to best utilize them. And infrastructure, who pays for all those new (and disproportionately expensive) roads and utilities and services every time a new subdivision or a Walmart or 'whatever' gets built ever farther out in Sprawlville?! Correct me if I'm wrong, but not the developer. The taxpayer does! (Rarely do I ever here the "governement subsidy" argument used to oppose new strip/sprawl development. Usually, if there's opposition at all, it's just good old' fashioned NIMBYism.)

So unless you're a strict libertarian anarchist, you really can't argue against city investment in infrastructure and utilities. And since there aren't too many LA's, it just comes down to priorities: another sprawling road to God knows where, or a downtown street, rich with civic pride and the possibility of cultural interest and diversity? For me - and many others - it's not even close.

@Steve: We'll just have to disagree on HS's traction level. It's mere existence shows traction in downtown development. Two years ago, nothing. Now, something. Tomorrow, watch out! Can I prove it? No. But other than a regenerated heart, I can't prove God's existence, either. But I still believe. I have faith.

And even if HS was DOA - which I don't believe at all - interest in and excitement about downtown's future is alive and well, notwithstanding that very skewed poll.

Thu, 02/01/2007 - 9:36am

scott -- Scott -- either or both of you --

The reason I and many others are skeptical of retail space and condos is that we've already seen by the example of Midtowne Crossing that the demand simply doesn't exist. Most of what had been intended as retail space at Midtowne is now occupied by offices, not retailers, and the condos are virtually impossible to unload -- and have been since Day One. I know people who were intimately involved in that project and there isn't anyone who considers it successful.

I'm not being a knee-jerk conservative fuddy-duddy here. I'm being realistic. Successful retail projects begin with signed leases in hand from the anchor businesses who desire the location. Retailers live for traffic, not the other way around. The guy who was going to make the Holiday Inn into condos gave up because he, too, realized that there simply isn't a demand in this market.

I'm skeptical of your claim that Hardball has any stake in this portion of the project; it's not evident in anything I've read.

Thu, 02/01/2007 - 9:57am

I'm not following you when you say that you're skeptical about Hardball having a stake in the condos or retail. Do you mean that they aren't developing them? Or that they aren't paying for them? I don't understand what you're trying to say.

From the City's release about the project:
"Hardball Capital, the owner of the Fort Wayne Wizards, has expressed interest in
developing the residential condominium and retail components in addition to its
involvement with the stadium."