WARSAW — Nearly 100 people took a look at Warsaw’s past and caught a glimpse of its future Wednesday, Oct. 9, during the city’s first-ever Downtown Development Tour.
A mix of curiosity seekers, fans of local history and community leaders were joined by more than a half dozen developers for an up-close look at some of the most historic buildings in downtown Warsaw as well as the first townhome being constructed as part of the Buffalo Street redevelopment by Matthews Warsaw LLC.
The event — the first of its kind in the city — served as a massive marketing blitz aimed at creating interest in the downtown which has more than ten empty storefronts and a vast amount of potential office and residential development opportunities on the second and third-floors of numerous buildings.
Over the course of two and a half hours, five groups fanned out across a four-block area and heard historical insights by members of the Kosciusko County Historical Society. Properties included:
- Eagles Building at 113 E. Center St., which includes Mad Anthony’s Brewing Company.
- The Elks building at 120 E. Center Street, which includes the recent addition of The Lab.
- The Phillipson’s building, known by many as Champ’s, at 121 S. Buffalo St, most recently the home of Bathhouse Records.
- The Times building, 123 E. Market St., including the old second-floor newsroom of the Times-Union and former studios of WRSW radio.
- The old State Bank building at 202 S. Buffalo St., where Bob List Photography has been since 1991.
- The old Post office at 120 S. Lake St.., where Forte Residential and Home Health Care moved in three years ago.
One clear highlight was a chance to see the first townhome still under construction and part of a $26 million Buffalo Street development.
Developer David Matthews was on hand to provide insights. The first three-story townhome to be completed will serve as a model while designs for two others will wait on specifications from the buyers.
The townhome toured Wednesday has a two-car garage, four bedrooms and four and a half baths. An elevator shaft is included in the designs if the buyer wants an elevator.
Price ranges for the upscale homes will be in the $300,000s and $400,000s, Matthews said.
Construction of smaller homes to the west could begin within a few months while larger, more expensive city homes on the east side of Buffalo Street will be constructed in one or two years, he said.
He was more than happy to showcase the opportunities and fielded lots of questions.
“We learned about the tour about a month ago and said, ‘Yeah, we’ll be there,’ ” Matthews said.
The tour underscored the success seen at some of the properties — Forte Residential and Home Health Care Inc., and Bob List Photography, for example — and the potential in others, many of which are either for sale or having leasing opportunities.
Participants each received booklets that described the properties and also contained information about federal and state incentives for investing in historical properties, details about Indiana Landmarks and other resources.
For many participants, the tour was an eye-opener.
Josh Finch, a candidate for city council, took the tour. The properties, he said are “oozing with potential” that just need some time, money and desire.
Pastor Brian Smith, of Warsaw First United Methodist Church, said he wanted to learn more about downtown history since he recently moved to Warsaw.
“It’s wonderful. I love to see the old architecture and hear the stories of what these places used to be,” Smith said.
Mayor Joe Thallemer spoke at the concluding reception at The Vic. He credited City Council member Cindy Dobbins and Director of Warsaw Community Development Corporation Trisha Steger for taking the lead in organizing the event.
Thallemer pointed to two examples of significant renovations in recent years. One involved Jason Brown’s decision to renovate two adjoining properties on North Buffalo, including the old Reader’s World, that led to the eventual opening of The Vic and One Ten Craft Meatery. The other is the third floor of city hall that sat dormant for many years and was renovated several years ago by OrthoWorx.
“I hope you had some ah-ha moments today like, ‘Boy, I could see this’ or ‘Wow, we could do this up here’,” Thallemer told tour participants.
John Warren, a WCDC board member, is a lifetime resident who recalls people predicted the downtown’s demise five decades ago when the new US 30 replaced the highway that used to run along Center Street.
He sounded optimistic about the downtown’s future and deemed the tour a success at the start of the event.
“For this number of people from inside and outside the community to take an afternoon to tour downtown Warsaw, to me, it’s already a success,” Warren said.