FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Days after demolition begins on a the former new York Central Freight Station, the property's owners are defending their actions and looking to the future.
Danny Rifkin is a partner at North River Capital and a member of Calhoun Investments, LLC. Calhoun Investments owns the property on which the old freight house sits at the corner of Clinton and Fourth Streets.
Rifkin says the company is sympathetic to the community's response to the demolition of the freight house, but says all other options had been exhausted.
He says they've been trying to find a developer or investor interested in purchasing or revitalizing the property for decades. Yet, there was never any serious interest shown. They also question why members of the special interest groups that have been so outspoken about the building's demolition haven't come forward with any concrete ideas or suggestions of their own.
Rifkin adds that Calhoun Investments has hired companies to do many structural evaluations over the years. Most recently, he says an inspection in early 2010 concluded that the building was on the verge of collapse and posed significant safety hazards. That's when the owners first applied for a demolition permit. However, they agreed to stop demolition for 30 days in hopes of coming up with another solution. Rifkin says it's been about six months and there has been no interest in the property. In fact, he says Calhoun Investments were the only ones actively trying to seek out another solution, or least no one ever contacted him with any other concrete suggestions.
Then, on September 28th, the City of Fort Wayne's Department of Neighborhood Code Enforcement issued an Emergency Order to Seal. Fort Wayne Director of Community Development John Urbahns says the city has been in discussions with Calhoun Investments for years and city officials were surprised to hear that demolition had begun Monday morning. "As part of the board up order, there was no inspection done on the property. An officer found it open, called to have it boarded up, and that was the extent of the city involvement with the order." He says the order did not require any further action by the property's owners.
But Rifkin is adamant that the company tried it's best to save the structure, but says in the end it just didn't make sense. "The cost of trying to maintain a deteriorating structure goes up all the time, and we felt there was no viable opportunity to do anything with the building. And it was unrealistic to expect anyone to rehabilitate it."
He says that's because it wouldn't be smart business to rehabilitate the station at a cost far greater than rebuilding an identical structure.
Rifkin also wanted to clarify a few things. First, community members have stated that demolition began around 3:00 a.m. Monday morning. He says this isn't true - it was around 8:00 a.m. during regular business hours.
Also, Rifkin says that city officials were indeed notified that demolition was beginning. When asked when, he said not until Monday morning because he didn't want to risk word getting out and a "scene" arising such as the one he experienced six months ago when talk about tearing the building down first began.
No matter who was right and who was wrong, the fact remains that it's too late to do anything about it now. The building's owners had a legal right to tear the building down and inform or not inform whomever they liked. So, we asked... what does the future hold for this property?
Both Rifkin and Urbahns seemed hopeful that city officials and the property's owners can work together and continue discussions about future development of the property.
"This is a vital property right on the gateway to downtown - a key area of the city," says Urbahns. "I believe we want to continue discussions with them about the property and how it develops."
Rifkin says he has some ideas. "The right thing to do is to come up with a comprehensive development plan that enhances the downtown and puts in a permanent and solid tax base to support the city as opposed to satisfying a few special interest groups who would require subsidies instead of contributing to the tax base."
The loss of this Fort Wayne landmark may be difficult, but whether it was necessary or not will remain a discussion to be had around Summit City dining room tables for quite some time.
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