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Nov. 13--Two major downtown improvement projects took initial but important steps forward Monday, thanks to the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission.

In separate votes, the board approved an agreement that will make a parking lot at Main and Harrison streets available for construction of a 125-room, $27.7 million "boutique" hotel to be operated by Oregon-based Provenance Hotels in partnership with Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and agreed to accept ownership of a 28-acre site north of downtown if certain other conditions are met.

As News-Sentinel.com first reported earlier this month, the land at Harrison and Main is owned by the city and Allen County, and the hotel is expected to be funded in part by more than $2 million in loans from the Capital Improvement Board, some of which is expected to be refunded through taxes generated by the project. A formal development agreement will be finalized for the project, which is also expected to include a bank loan of about $13 million, $6 million from the owners, $3.8 million from the state, $2 million from Allen County and the land, which is worth about $850,000 and will be donated by the commission. Much of that funding is in the form of tax credits or other support that would also be repaid through new taxes generated by the improvements. The owners are also expected to seek a tax abatement that will save them about $2.8 million.

The project is expected to create about 90 jobs, and, together with the recently announced Hampton Inn and Suites to be built near Parkview Field, will increase the number of downtown hotel rooms from the current 464 to about 714 -- rooms expected to attract more visitors and larger conventions. The hotel will include restaurants and other commercial space on the ground floor and an indoor-outdoor restaurant or bar on the fifth floor.

The commission's willingness to accept ownership of the so-called "North River" property, however, still depends on a variety of other factors. The Capital Improvement Board on Thursday will consider providing about $4.6 million to buy the property, and City Council on Tuesday is expected to introduce a resolution that would obligate the city for the cost of cleaning up the vacant former industrial site that was most recently home to OmniSource's scrap yard.

City Director of Community Development Greg Leatherman said previous studies indicate the cleanup will cost in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" but could be offset by grants or future developers. Should the deal go through -- and the city must agree to the sale by Dec. 1 -- the commission would seek potential developers for the property.

"This is long overdue," Commission President Christopher Guerin said. "This is the biggest step for downtown since Harrison Square."

Jason Arp, who as a member of City Council usually opposed city-subsidized economic development projects, voted against both items. Also voting against the North River proposal was Tom Obergfell, who said he is concerned clean-up costs could far exceed Leatherman's estimate.

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