WARSAW — South McKinley Street is certainly not a thoroughfare, but rather an important side street that connects a bike path between Winona Avenue and Market Street on the eastern side of the city that abuts the town of Winona Lake.
In a 15-minute span late Monday afternoon, May 6, numerous pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists made their way along the route past the Gatke property that includes a behemoth brick and steel structure that has sat empty for roughly a quarter century
Taylor and Andrew Wade said they like the pedestrian path and when prodded by the suggestion that city officials believe it has potential for development, they agreed.
“Yeah, if they could get rid of that,” Andrew said, pointing with a thumb toward the dilapidated structure.
City officials have been trying to determine what to do with property, which includes a huge, cavernous building near the road and several more further to the south and closer to the railroad tracks along Winona Avenue.
The question of what the redevelopment commission might do with it came up Monday after city officials recently learned that a potential investor had stepped back from plans to revamp the hulking structure into a multi-use development.
City Plan Director Jeremy Skinner said the timing was not right for the developer and added he doesn’t think the group just walked away, and left open the door that they might look at it again.
Michael Kinder & Sons, Fort Wayne, tried to line up tenants for a mix-used concept. Under that plan, the city was tentatively looking at demolishing some other small buildings on the property. The firm had a memo of understanding with the redevelopment commission, but that expired earlier this year.
On Monday, members of the redevelopment commission raised the issue again of what can be done with the property now owned by the redevelopment commission. Develop or demolish?
Some probably think it should be torn down, but the city doesn’t have enough money in the related tax increment finance fund to pay to demolish all of the buildings on the lot, Skinner said.
Many others hope the main building can be redeveloped.
“We’re still trying. We’re still working on it. We’ll continue to work on it. There’s no guarantees, obviously,” Skinner said.
Jo Paczkowski, a member of the Kosciusko County Convention Recreation and Visitor Commission, attended Monday’s meeting and expressed interest in seeing the main building revitalized. She suggested the board try to promote its availability.
Skinner said the land is well known in the community, but admitted promoting its availability outside the area might be needed.
“I think people know it’s not going to be an easy redevelopment project, but that’s what makes it fun,” Skinner said.
At one point, the late Dane Miller, one of the founders of Biomet, looked at turning the building into a car museum.
“We’ve heard many, many, many proposals and ideas,” Mayor Joe Thallemer reminded the commission. The vast majority of those looking at the property have sought to redevelop the biggest building.
In 2016, a project involving Gatke was part of the Stellar Communities project, a statewide program that ultimately did not win approval.
Revitalizing the property could have a domino effect on the entire area.
“We just need that one transformational, visionary, sustainable investment to make that happen,” Thallemer said. “If that would happen, I think we could kickstart that area.”