Posted on Wed. Jan. 07, 2015 - 12:01 am EDT
Plans unveiled to turn Centlivre Village ghost town into 'hip' Flats of Westbrook
Developer still weighing costs, financing, city's role
Right now they're just a bunch of pretty pictures.
But if all goes well, the plans outlined for the city's Housing and Neighborhood Development Services Board Tuesday will guide the long-delayed resurrection of a near-abandoned Fort Wayne apartment complex -- with work beginning as soon as this summer.
"I've never been more confident than I am now. It's a different (housing and financial) market than it was in 2009 and 2010," said California resident Albert Cohen, who wants to convert his admittedly obsolete 50-year old Centlivre Village Apartments at 2903 Westbrook Drive into a trendy project tentatively known as the Flats at Westbrook.
Cohen and the HANDS department have been trying to do something with the eyesore just north of downtown for at least five years. In 2009, Cohen talked about spending $9 million to renovate the 455-unit, five-building complex. But the hoped-for federal subsidies never materialized, causing the city to withdraw the $1.1 million it had pledged.
But the economy has improved since then, and other changes make the project's current version more feasible. With an increasingly vibrant downtown just 1.5 miles to the south and a trail planned to its west, the location is considered is expected to appeal to young people and "empty nesters" who want to live close to downtown in a more suburban setting. And in September a study by New Jersey-based Zimmerman/Volk Associates suggested the complex could support about 400 apartments or condominiums, generating $3.4 million in revenue after five years.
As outlined by Ron Dick and Kelly Shields of Fort Wayne-based Design Collaborative, preliminary plans for the Flats at Westbrook call for just 325 apartments, townhouses and condominiums -- the smaller number reflecting the need to break up the original smaller units into larger living spaces sought today.
"The 'bones' are strong and the setting is incredible, but it's got that mid-century look. It makes sense to rebrand the property into something more 'hip,' " Dick said, with the planned addition of carports, garages, major improvements to the recreation area and stains that create pattern in exterior brickwork.
"We're confident we have the right mix (of proposed units and amenities,)" said Cohen, who will now work with contractors to establish a construction cost then approach lenders about possible financing.
Whether the city will be willing to help in that regard may depend on how Cohen structures his plan, however.
He would prefer to build market-rate units in phases, so that initial units' sales could be assessed before additional expenses are incurred.
But Heather Presley-Cowen, deputy director of community development, made it clear the city would prefer Cohen commit to redeveloping the entire complex. "You don't want beautiful buildings in a sea of empty buildings," she said, noting tenants and buyers might not be willing to invest and live in an area only partially renovated. Government subsidies also often requires some apartments be income-restricted and increases construction costs.
Cohen was invited to reappear before the board after more thoroughly exploring his costs and financing.