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Summit City Holdings Outlines Preliminary Plans for $163 million Hotel,
Waterpark and a Possible Casino in Downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana

By Kevin Leininger, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 25, 2009--A prominent local architectural firm has outlined plans for a $163 million downtown project that would include a hotel, water park, theaters, shops and possibly a casino.

Representatives of MSKTD briefed Wells Street business owners on the proposal recently, and "could be ready to submit it to the city Plan Commission next month," according to Judi Wire, president of the Wells Street Business Association. The project would be located on the so-called "North River" property -- a 29-acre site north of the St. Marys River formerly occupied by OmniSource, a metals recycling company.

Neighborhood representatives generally liked what they heard, Wire said -- but noted that the presentation never mentioned a casino, which would require approval by the General Assembly and, as requested by Mayor Tom Henry, local voters. The possibility of a casino did not please the area's city councilman, however.

"Most of the project is fantastic, but my heart dropped when I saw the casino. Gambling is very addictive and can ruin people's lives," said Tom Didier, R-3rd.

MSKTD officials were unavailable for comment Friday, but in January the firm was hired to design a project for a group called Summit City Grand Report and Casino Holdings Corp. that would include a 3,000-seat theater and water park. The chief executive officer of Summit City Holdings is H.S. Liddell, whose holdings also include Piere's Entertainment Center in Fort Wayne. The project would create an estimated 1,500 jobs.

Summit City officials were also unavailable for comment. But according to the group's Web site, it is moving ahead with the project and has had discussion with potential funding sources.

According to MSKTD's proposal, the project would include the following:

--A $28.2 million hotel

--A $28.8 million theater

--A $56.4 million water park

--A $13.8 million IMAX theater

--$8.5 million in retail and office space

--A $26.7 million casino (if authorized)

The theater could be a "national concert venue," Liddell stated in February letter to Henry included on the Web site. The Web site also said Summit City is awaiting endorsements from city officials and expects to begin construction this year on the water park, IMAX theater and the 3,000-seat concert venue. The hotel would follow later, with the casino the last to be built pending funding, licensing and other approvals.

At one point, the city had acquired an option to buy the OmniSource property for possible development, but allowed the option to lapse. A study of whether the land was contaminated by years of industrial use was never released.

City Councilman Tom Smith, R-1st, said he shared Didier's concerns about a possible casino.

"I wouldn't want gambling that close to all the other family-oriented stuff in the project," he said.

But is such a costly proposal feasible -- or even credible?

"(Summit City) hasn't approached the city with any detailed proposal," mayoral spokesman Ozzie Mitson said.


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Copyright (c) 2009, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.

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