Ardmore widening and other issues at the Redevelopment mtg.

City of Fort Wayne Seal

The Redevelopment Commission met this afternoon to discuss among other items, the Ardmore widening project.  This project addresses much needed traffic improvements to the stretch between Jefferson Boulevard South to Taylor Avenue.  But before I get to this, let me state two things.  

First, Steve Corona who is the Fort Wayne Community School’s Redevelopment Commission member was absent again.  This is the second meeting in a row he has missed.  As you may know, House Bill 1001, which became law July 1st, mandates that a Public School official should be attending Redeveloping Commission meetings as a non-voting member.  The thinking being that school districts should have a part in discussions and decisions affecting their taxbases.  The one meeting Corona attended, he was silent throughout.  However, shortly before adjournment he asked for a clarification of the Harrison Square contingency funds balance.  It showed he’d been following the discussion as it wasn’t clear in most minds in the room after the presentation what the balance was.

Anyway, the other item that bears mentioning is this was the first meeting Tom Obergfell did not have a question about the previous month’s claims.  Sort of an inside joke as every meeting since he started in January, Obergfell has had a question of some sort about something in the claims.  This is a good thing – shows the Commission is paying attention and not simply a rubber stamp.

Ardmore Widening

First, let me show you the plan that has been improved for the widening project of Ardmore between Taylor Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard.

Click above to view a larger image of the plan, or download it here as a pdf file.

To this point, the Redevelopment Commission or staff has not been involved in any of the planning or decision made concerning this proposed project.  The City is now coming to the Redevelopment Commission to fund this project.  If you remember, thus far, the Commission had committed the necessary funds to the Ardmore and Taylor Avenues intersection for improvements there.  This amount was increased in today’s meeting to $1.9 million.

Now the City is asking the Redevelopment Commission for an additional $8.5 million to improve the half-mile stretch of road between Taylor Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard.  The source of the funds are the Jefferson-Illinois Road and Baer Field TIF Districts, although it was revealed that some CEDIT funding might be drawn upon as well.  

Fort Wayne City Engineer Dave Ross presented the proposal to the Commission.  The adopted plan includes sound barriers, landscaping, a private road system that will pass behind the houses along the East side of Ardmore since they will not be able to directly access Ardmore.

Christopher Guerin, Redevelopment Commission President, started a round of comments and questions:

Christopher Guerin: Is there any precedence that you could look at in the history of your work here with the City for a half-mile of road work being done that would come anywhere near $8.3 [sic] million?

Dave Ross: I don’t believe so.  I know that this is a precedent setting project.  City Council representatives met with the neighbors and understood the fact that it is a unique situation where the traffic pattern was going to change on this section of roadway and they indicated they wanted it to be an award-winning project and show we could be sensitive to the needs of the neighborhood, along with what’s a commercial corridor, for the economy of the City.  So, this is a rather unique project…

Tom Obergfell: Let me ask that question a different way: How much extra is it costing to satisfy those, [pause] I mean if you were just going to put four lanes of the same level of construction through there without the considerations that are here, about how much would a stretch of road like that cost?

Dave Ross: We believe, if we did just the construction estimate for the roadway itself was about $2 million dollars.  Of course that figure was from two years ago so that would be a bit higher, it would be about half the cost [$4.25 million] for the roadway itself.

Tom Obergfell: But that would be without berming or anything, right?

Dave Ross: It would be standard roadway, five lanes with two sidewalks on each side and grass.

Some discussion about the center lane

Casey Cox: … Keeping in line with Tom and Christopher’s questions, do we have any idea what the disparity would be between this project and something we have done in the past?  You mentioned the $2 million cost on the base project, but some other example that people are going to look at and say you only spent x number on this project but for citizens in the Southwest area, they spent $10.4 million.  [silence]  If not, [pause] I don’t know, just looking at what the perception might be.

Dave Ross: We’ve been adding more landscaping and the Mayor had asked that when we’re doing projects now, that we add at least about 10 per cent in for landscaping consideration help with the green – that was pretty much the standard before, but this is of course, much more diligent in noise buffering and screening for the traffic.

Christopher Guerin: Just to clarify one point you made earlier, because I think the number I heard, that if you were to do this, the increment that we’re applying over and above … being roughly half of the $8.5 million.  This is an extraordinary situation where there are more issues than simply widening the road, that there are issues and valid issues of sound abatement.  But I asked you a similar question when we met that had more to do with, there’s a point at which we met all of those goals and we’ve still gone beyond that to what is really a dramatic beautification project.  You used a different number for that portion of it that was closer to $2 million and I don’t know if that’s still a good number or no longer would apply?

Dave Ross responded about some of the increased costs in the project included things like ROW acquisition, a voluntary buy-out offer and other expenses, sort of missing the point of Guerin’s question

Christopher Guerin: Well, I don’t want to put words in your mouth about the $2 million, but there is a number here, whatever it is that is between doing this project according to all the necessities involved and then what we really have – I mean it does go beyond that, and I think you could call that beautification.  The berming is very elaborate, the cut-aways that I saw – and it’s that slice of it that gives me some concern.

There was more discussion.  Before the final vote was taken, Christopher Guerin had the following comments:

So, again, just a few comments and this all relates solely to the Ardmore extension [sic].  

I do, I tend to hope for it, I do believe it’s an entirely larger more expensive project than it should or ought to be.  I think, one of my problems and it’s probably one of our problems is that because we were not involved in that process at all, it’s hard for us to understand, it’s hard for me to understand why it should be that much money without ever having seen anything except the final results.  

This Commission has stopped going forward with projects when they became too expensive.  Calhoun is a perfect example – it ballooned way out of proportion and we decided not to move ahead.  I did listen to, I know this was presented to the Council, I did listen and watch that and there were two interesting things said.  

One was that this should be standard for what we do in this community and if that were truly something that I believe, I’d endorse this full-heartedly.  But I think that in part we’re spending this much money because it’s simply there to be spent and it can’t be spent any place else.  If you could take this $2 million, if that’s the increment, and put it into other things, I know that may of us might have much better ideas on how that money could be spent.

Finally, as it was said in Council, there has been an extraordinary amount of involvement of the individual Council members in this.  And I think for that reason more than anything else I vote to support it simply because I think that’s where it now lies.  I think Council needs to be the determining factor because they’ve been such a driving force in all this.

Tom Obergfell added:

I echo that 100 per cent.  I don’t feel real good, this is a lot of dough for half a mile.  We’ve got the pot of money here, but I agree.  I think that we potentially handcuff ourselves [financially] on future projects.  This road needs to be widened – I was the first one to say that, but that’s a lot of money, a lot of money for half a mile.

The Redevelopment Commission went on to approve the resolution for funding.  However, it was pointed out, that control, letting and final approvals of the contracts will rest with the City Council.

TIF Projected Balances

The next part of the discussion centered around a TIF projected balances presentation by Greg Leatherman, Executive Director of the Redevelopment Commission.  I was unable to get copies of the figures provided to the Redevelopment Commission and just hearing the numbers and then trying to write about them intelligently will probably get me into trouble.  With this in mind, I’ll give you the long and short of it.  

There is enough money in the TIF districts to complete the projects on the table, and still accommodate the Ardmore widening, even at the increased cost.  However, the waterline project that will extend City water and services to the Coca-Cola plant will probably be delayed a year to allow that money to be diverted to the Ardmore project.  Leatherman stated that no contracts or commitments had been made about this project and that pushing it back would not present any problems.  It also sounded like 2010 will be the tightest year, however, after that, things should begin to ease up a little.

Dimension Ford Property

One of the things that was revealed in the above discussion was that the Redevelopment Commission has been asked to purchase the old Dimension Ford property, West of Swinney Park.  Plans are to turn this into a wetlands and stormwater mitigation site.  Leatherman mentioned the TIF projections included $200,00 per year for the contract purchase of the property, although either it wasn’t stated or I missed it on how many years the contract would cover.  The Redevelopment Commission will pay for environmental consultant (oil remediation), property acquisition and demolition and removal of debris from the site.  The Parks Department will take charge of it at that point and pay for further costs.

Television Broadcasts of Redevelopment Commission Meetings

This resolution was passed with no discussion, or the need for it.  It will start with the taping of the next meeting.  Meetings will be taped, but not telecast live, rather on a delayed basis.  Guerin did comment, “For the sake of certain bloggers, I’d like to go on record saying, ‘I’m all for it!'” which drew laughter from all those in attendance.  Look for another post about this subject later in the week.

The Embassy Foundation Escrow Agreement and Contribution Agreement

The Embassy Foundation had requested for a shift in $50,000 into the contingency fund.  No additional money was approved for the project.

Club Soda

Leatherman reported that the Commission will begin negotiations on the Club Soda property lease as it expires the end of 2010. 

Jim Irwin, Barry Real Estate, Presentation

Long and short of this discussion was that the money is in good shape for the project.  Hardball Capital is continuing to contribute towards it’s $5 million required contribution, although no details were given.  Also, no details were read into the record regarding the numbers.  

One of the things discussed was the possible addition of a hand-operated scoreboard in center field.  The inspiration for the scoreboard would be Wrigley Field.  It was also jokingly asked if there was a connection between Irwin Seating, provider of the seating at Parkview Field, and Jim Irwin to which he responded, none whatsoever.  He went on to state that Irwin Seating had just been awarded the contract for the new Yankee’s Stadium in New York City and that they are regarded as the finest builder of seating in the country.

Guerin also asked if any considerations had been given to including public art in the Harrison Square area.  It was alluded to that a piece is being considered for Meyer Park, but no details were given.  Jim Irwin stated that they felt it important to include art work to make the ballpark more than just about sports. 

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