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Fort Wayne redevelopment panel sees more funding requests

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - 12:01 am

The Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission has seen an increase in requests for money by outside groups, possibly because of the impression that the panel has lots of extra cash on hand.

Commission Director Greg Leatherman said the panel is considering a request by the History Center, 302 E. Berry St., for nearly $700,000 to help with upcoming renovations. At least three other groups also have approached the city for funding – an occurrence that used to be rare – but have not yet made public requests, Leatherman said.

Because of the more frequent requests, the commission voted last week to table the History Center's request until January so city staff can set up clear guidelines on which projects qualify for money from tax increment financing, or TIF, districts, Leatherman said.

“We really need to stop and analyze what our policy is on these asks,” Leatherman said. “We know there are people who will be asking for funds, and we want there to be a policy on paper.”

Leatherman said the increase in funding requests may have resulted from last month's City Council budget hearings, where he outlined why several of the city's TIF districts have built up millions of dollars in unspent revenue.

A TIF district is an area where the city can capture property taxes generated by a new development – such as Harrison Square – and put those tax dollars toward civic improvements.

The city's 14 TIF districts have a combined balance of about $20 million, but Leatherman told council in October that almost all of that money is already tied up in specific projects.

“I don't want people to get the idea that there's all this money sitting in there for no reason,” Leatherman said.

Outside groups may also have become more aware of the redevelopment commission early this year through a series of highly publicized discussions on whether the panel was right to tap $1 million in TIF money for elevator repairs at the city-owned Citizens Square building, Leatherman said.

At the time, critics argued that spending money on routine improvements to a taxpayer-funded building did not fit with the panel's goal of promoting economic activity in and around the downtown area.

The History Center hopes to spend about $400,000 on new windows, up to $30,000 on roof repairs and $240,000 to resurface the Barr Street Market area at Barr and Wayne Street.

If the commission agrees to pay for some or all of the History Center improvements, the money would come from the downtown "civic center" TIF, which has a balance of about $6 million, Leatherman said.