NORTH RIVER DEVELOPMENT – WRONG TIME – WRONG PROJECT

The North River issue has finally crept back into the headlines with the news that a local architectural firm, MSKTD (short for MOAKE SHELDON KRATZAT THOMPSON DEARING), has prepared a $163 million downtown project for the 29-acre site which may contain hazardous materials left over from its previous owner, Omni Source.

The firm – hired by the Summit City Grand Resort and Casino Holdings Corporation – is proposing a waterpark, a theater, an IMAX theater, retail and office space, and a possible casino.  A possible casino?  The plan is nothing more than a Trojan horse aimed at backdooring the establishment of a casino in downtown Fort Wayne.

H.S. Liddell, CEO of the Summit City Grand Resort and Casino Holdings Corporation, is currently a part owner of the Sosua Bay Grand Casino & Resort and the Hotel Villa Chessa located in the Dominican Republic within the Caribbean Gaming & Acquistion Corp.   Liddell’s group is pushing the casino concept even though a casino must be approved at the state legislative level.   Mayor Henry has also said he intends to put the casino idea to a voter referendum.

I am absolutely mystified that anyone would want to move forward at this particular point in time on a project that appears to duplicate many of the Harrison Square features.  Harrison Square must be completed and given a chance to succeed before any more projects are undertaken.   The North River project is not needed and is not viable given the state of our economy.  North River would pull patrons and business away from the nearby Harrison Sqaure and its components.

Are the proponents of a casino so money hungry that they will set up a new project that has the potential to damage the newly burgeoning Harrison Square project?   Let’s hope the City Council takes a long, hard look at this ill-conceived plan and rejects it.

North River is the wrong project at the wrong time.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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11 Responses to NORTH RIVER DEVELOPMENT – WRONG TIME – WRONG PROJECT

  1. Phil Marx says:

    Hi Charlotte, this is totally off-topic, but I thought you’d get a laugh from this joke if you hadn’t already heard it.

    Donald Rumsfeld is giving the President his daily briefing on Iraq. He concludes by saying: “Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed.”

    “OH NO!” the President exclaims. “That’s terrible!” His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands. Finally, the President looks up and asks, “How many is a brazillion?”

    As for your post itself, I totally agree. They can barely get the H.S. project to breathe, and they are using the slowed economy as an excuse for that. so why then would they want to plunge into another folly. Maybe they know something about the economy that we don’t.

  2. Mark says:

    A few quibbles after reading your opinion.. regardless of anyones personal view on gambling/casinos, and whether or not the company can actually get financing (or a casino license) for this ambitious undertaking..

    1 – Which “many features” are being duplicated? The IMAX, concert venue, or water park? All I see at Harrison Square is a beautiful baseball stadium with a hotel on the way.

    2 – So your thought is that people will be pulled away from Harrison Square (Parkview Field and a hotel) to go watch a tincaps game at North River? I do not follow. They will go to Harrison Square for a game. They would go to North River for a show, concert, or to gamble (if that came to fruition).

    3 – Wasn’t Harrison Square supposed to be a catalyst for future PRIVATE downtown development?

    4 – A COMPANY wants to come in and spend 163M in downtown. And we should say, “No, We’ve had too much investment downtown recently.”

    As Councilman Didier once said (on a different project), “Who am I to stop someone from investing money in Fort Wayne?”

    I’m mystified why anyone would want to reject that much private investment in our city. Especially downtown.

  3. Mark:

    The duplication is in the form of the hotel and the retail shops. As to the idea of a concert venue, would the new venue try to work with the Tincaps to avoid same night bookings of events? Or would they be forced to take the concerts when they are available?

    I don’t think investment downtown is a bad idea; I supported Harrison Square and want to see it succeed. I am just questioning the wisdom of going forward with more investment and construction when the economy is in the state it is and Harrison Square hasn’t even been completed.

    Harrison Square involved private investment also, but that still didn’t make it acceptable to all the citizens of Fort Wayne.

    I am saying wait until Harrison Square is on its feet before jumping into another huge project. I also don’t see the need for a casino. Why is it when entities need to generate income, many times the fallback is gambling of any type?

  4. Cole says:

    Aside from the gambling/casino aspect of this proposal, I can’t imagine how you could say you are against this development.

    Your argument of the duplication of hotels, retail, and concert venues doesn’t really hold water. Should we not have built the Courtyard because we already have the Hilton and “Fort Wayne Inn”? Should we not have built Harrison Square to be a concert venue as well, because we already have the Embassy. Should we not have required The courtyard or allowed Harrison square to both have conference space because we have the Grand Wayne Center?

    I seriously doubt that a new concert venue and Harrison Square will be having large fights over concert times and acts. One is an outdoor venue and one will most likely be an enclosed venue. Such as the competition with the Embassy and Parkview field, there is a little overlap, but I await the day the Philharmonic will play in the infield. Also, you are talking about a 2,000 seat venue, versus a ~8,000 outdoor seat amphitheater. Again, the same acts aren’t going to be competing.

    As for retail, there isn’t any duplication. The Retail will not be built until Barry Real Estate becomes reasonable of the cost of the condos the retail is hinged on. I am a huge Harrison Square supporter, but my jaw dropped when I saw the cost of the condos and realized what a mistake of making the requirement based on investment dollars instead of number of condo units built.

    As of right now, this company has asked nothing of the city. I expect this to change, due to the climate of handouts, exemptions, and abatements our current local government has created; but who are we (Fort Wayne) to say that a private entity should not be able to risk their own money on a development that Fort Wayne has supposedly been crying about over the last couple of years? And to claim that we should caution/hinder them about construction in a down economy is just plain absurd. When most of the our “stimulus”, that I’m pretty sure you are a proponent of, that is suppose to be getting our economy out of its current state consists of construction.

    Harrison square does have private investment, I think the percentage of investment is what had/has people upset. In my humble opinion, the way we financed and wrote our contracts made Fort Wayne look desperate and cheap.

    Now, am I saying the rest of this proposal isn’t the icing over what a lot of people consider a dungpie or casino? No, I believe that this development is solely being proposed because this company probably believes they can get a gambling license approved, and suspect if this belief ever goes away, so will the notion of this development. But I also believe that if a company wants to invest, wants to deliver a ton of amenities that so many people were bitching about and wanted Harrison Square substituted with, and delivers it in the spirit of the final report of North River Now Project – We, Fort Wayne, need to seriously consider this as a viable option for the Omni-Source land. All in all, why would Fort Wayne even feel like they have a say in the matter? They passed on the land, the passed on furthering the option to purchase, and it is not on the table for action. This land appears to be on the free market, as you know Fort Wayne is ALL about property rights.

  5. Cole:

    Please see my response to Mark. I said I wasn’t against downtown investment – I live in West Central, and I would love nothing more than to see the urban core revived and vibrant. The taxpayers will pay in the form of abatements, incentives, etc. I just don’t think it merits consideration at this point in time.

    In addition, the City has been secretive about the environmental hazard study that was done. Why is it the public cannot see this report? Who gets stuck cleaning up the mess? When the City had its option contract, I believe one of the conditions was that the City would clean up the site.

    Explain why it is absurd to urge caution in this economy? Just saying so doesn’t make it so.

  6. Mike H says:

    Interesting… Maybe on the weekend I’ll get a chance to make a comment. The only thing I will say is that all private investors are not treated equally…

  7. Cole says:

    Ok, well the city no longer has the option to buy the land. So the city has been wiped clean of any clause of the purchase. I think the city would be stupid to agree to the clean up the land, but will most likely compensate the company’s cost with abatements. Also, there have always been grants for brown field clean ups. Of course grants are also paid for by tax payers.

    Everything in this proposal but the casino the city really does not have a say in what they do. The city has set a precedent already about development in the downtown area, i.e. Charis House and strip malls that are planned for around the downtown area, that they really have no choice but not only to accept the development, but also aid in its fruition. That is actually a scary notion of what you are suggesting. That the city should shut down all development, until the heavily government back development is in full swing. Especially when the city has been passive, at best, about getting Harrison Square 100% complete.

    The city does not have to provide any incentives, the only reason the city provided such large incentives for Harrison Square is due to the fact of how the project was funded. Without the hotel there wasn’t a city backed ballpark, so for the city to have a project, they desperately needed a hotel; so the city sweetened the deal. The city can be extremely hands off on this project and not provide anything for the developers. Now, I’m sure these developers have their own dependencies, which probably goes like – Without the casino, there isn’t a development.

    We can urge all the caution we want, but in this case, it is up to the private investors to determine if they have a sound and money making plan or not.

  8. Phillip says:

    Like has been said, I have no idea if the casino license will be able to be moved from Gary to Fort Wayne or not. I have no idea if a referendum would pass to allow it or not (my guess is it would be close). I’m not really sure what my personal opinion is on gambling in Fort Wayne, but I’m pretty indifferent. I’ve seen casinos in other Indiana cities, and have heard Mayors discuss having them. I personally do not gamble. That said, I would probably vote “Yes” in a referendum if done in a project that is more than just the casino, which is what we’re discussing.

    The site is shovel ready, and the environmental study showed no major environmental/health hazards. I’m not sure why it has not been made public (and not sure why Mayor Tom has been so tight lipped about discussions with this company), but that is what I’m hearing. I don’t know if that means nothing special/extra needs to be done, but its nothing that should stop any development. I’ve also heard this company is shovel ready as well.

    I agree with Paul. Not only is the project exciting for the downtown core (I also live in West Central), it is an actual private investor talking $160M+ in this economy. If they think they can turn profits, let them take their shot at it. If it takes a few abatements here and there from the city – fine. We’re talking downtown attractions, and jobs.

    If the project is done in the spirit of the original North River Now idea – I am all for it. It’s fine to be cautious in a troubled economy, but that is up to the investor in this case, not Joe or Jane Taxpayer.

  9. Phillip:

    Are you privy to information that the public is not? You state the environmental study showed no major environmental/health hazards. I wasn’t aware the City had released the study. In fact, the City wouldn’t release it. That says something in and of itself. If there really are no hazards, then why withhold the study?

    While the City may no longer have an option contract with Omni Source, anyone who buys the property will more than likely have cleanup.

    Also, wasn’t there private investment in Harrison Square? Yet, it is struggling to get built. What makes you think that the North River project will be any different? Again, I am not against more development downtown. I just think that the project will involve more than what has recently been disclosed.

    I will guarantee you that the major impetus behind this is the prospect of a casino. Look at who is putting forth the plan. What happens if the citizens vote down a casino referendum? Do you think those investors will go forward?

    The lobbyists hired by the mayor are there to push the casino – oh, excuse me, a referendum – and now a group is pushing the casino under cover of a total project. Why don’t they just be honest about why they are pushing this?

    And what scares me more than anything else is that this project was taken off the front burner and pretty much shelved for quite some time. No discussion other than the Mayor’s office contacting Senator Lugar’s office some time ago to fund a flood study for North River. The wish list for the stimulus also included $10,000,000 to develop North River.

    Frankly, in the end, I don’t think it will matter it we have a referendum or not. I think the dye has already been cast, and it is just a matter of how the casino gets built. I hope I am wrong.

  10. Tom Peirce says:

    My comment has nothing to do with the topic. I am an infrequent reader, who really thinks that the font size of the blog is way too small. It keeps me from wanting to read it because it takes so much effort. Any one know someone who deals with this sort of thing.
    Tom

  11. jon says:

    If you read the statement from the Summit City Grand Resort website they make it clear they will complete this project without a casino if the public doesn’t want it. It will still be profitable either way.

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