Fort Wayne’s ‘The Landing’: Development brings new life to one of Indiana’s oldest commercial districts

Travel back in time to when the speed of business was only as fast as the speed of gravity – flowing water. The Erie Canal’s terminus was Ft. Wayne, and the city’s welcome wagon was The Landing – a collection of warehouses and businesses designed specifically to welcome both freight and passengers. The area teemed with businesses – wholesale outlets, boarding houses, barbershops, taverns, printing offices, banks, and more. Thomas Edison lived upstairs from one of the shops, and scientists developed the formula for baking powder there.

As railways replaced waterways as the preferred means of moving goods across the country, The Landing slowly shuttered, eventually becoming blighted and vacant for many decades – until now.

“Thankfully, all that historic fabric in those buildings remains largely intact – highly distressed and blighted, but very much able to be restored and rehabilitated,” said Jason Chamlee of The Model Group, a developer that works throughout Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. “For us, that story in the broader community fabric is something we want to be a part of. This place that was once significant but has fallen on very hard times can be at the center of something new and transformational.”

The Model Group, along with the City of Ft. Wayne and the nonprofit developer Downtown Development Trust, are working to restore The Landing’s seven historic buildings into a mixed-use development that will feature more than 100,000 square feet of retail space, commercial office space, and mixed-income, multi-family housing. The development will also include a 35,000-square-foot new construction building, which fills a gap where a building burnt down decades ago.

“We’re going to take these historic buildings and turn them back into what they were originally meant to be – something really special and unique for the city,” Chamlee said. “The idea is to bring people and life back to the neighborhood.”

“Importantly, one-quarter of The Landing’s housing will be affordably priced, making the neighborhood accessible to lower-income families,” said IFF CEO Joe Neri. “IFF believes every family, regardless of income, should be able to live in affordable, safe, dynamic communities near necessities as well as amenities.”

The project is part of the City of Ft. Wayne’s larger redevelopment efforts – a 10-year, $645 million plan – that is already underway.

“We loved this opportunity as soon as we saw it, but our immediate next question was – what else is going on in the neighborhood? We probably wouldn’t have done this if it didn’t fit into a broader vision and strategy,” Chamlee said. “There’s a lot of momentum in Ft. Wayne – public spaces along the riverfront a block north, new boutique hotel a block south, a minor league stadium a couple blocks away. Plus, we have the advantage of being on the edge of downtown, so we’ll get spillover traffic during the day from the office crowd. The Landing has the opportunity to be different things throughout the day as well as very vibrant on weeknights and weekends.”

The 72 housing units – 18 of which are affordable housing units – will go on the market on a rolling basis as construction is completed in early 2019. Developers expect these residents will provide built-in patronage for the ground-floor storefronts, which will be occupied primarily with food-and-beverage businesses. The office space will provide homes to tech startups, creative businesses, and other entrepreneurs looking for space different from the downtown high-rises. According to Chamlee, there are already commitments for approximately two-thirds of these spaces.

IFF provided a $2.78 million loan toward the project. This was our second time partnering with The Model Group, which also helped develop much of the business district in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood near downtown Cincinnati.

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