By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — Plans for what looks like a solution to the vacated Owen’s supermarket property on the west end of downtown Warsaw – a multi-level building with apartments and a parking garage – are progressing.
The city, which has been the catalyst for several housing projects currently underway, is working closely with the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation on redeveloping the entire city block that currently includes the vacant store and a small apartment building to the east.
The city has worked to facilitate new housing around the downtown with two on-going projects along North Buffalo Street, a senior housing project in the 800 block of East Center Street. Four years ago, the city saw the addition of Little Crow Lofts on East Market.
Also underway is a housing development The Groninger Group on the site of the old Madison Elementary School.
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said apartments on the Owen’s property would include units that would be “primarily workforce housing.”
On Friday, Aug. 20, the city board of works and safety approved the transfer of $50,000 to be used by KEDCo. City council signed off on the transfer earlier.
The $50,000 revolving loan fund will be used by KEDCo for pre-development expenses such as issuing contracts for services that will allow the city to finish its due diligence prior to closing on the property, Community and Economic Development Director Jeremy Skinner said.
KEDCo will also administer money from a $4 million loan fund established by Zimmer Biomet, Indiana Community Development Administration, Kosciusko County Community Foundation and the Lilly Endowment.
That money can be used throughout the county to initiate specific housing projects, do pre-planning work and help identify developers for the work, according to Thallemer.
In both instances, the city would recapture that money from the development and return it to the loan program. Skinner said Friday that could be achieved by expanding an existing tax increment finance district to include the Owen’s property and then repay with TIF revenues.
Skinner said they are looking at a development that could include upward of 100-150 apartment units, but that is dependent on how the plan comes together.
The development would also include a multi-level parking garage.
If all goes as planned, the combined results from construction on Buffalo Street, Center Street, the Owen’s lot, and Little Crow Lofts )which opened a few years ago) will result in more than 300 new homes within a few blocks of the downtown, Skinner said.
The overall goal is “to promote walkability, to promote business downtown, to promote and support our restaurants downtown and just create that active nightlife that we don’t really have at the moment,” Skinner said.
The city is working with a developer to investigate environmental issues and the project’s overall feasibility.
“We’re still in the infancy at this point. We’re still trying to figure out the feasibility of it,” Skinner said.
The grocery store, owned by Kroger, has been closed since July of 2019, but dozens of people use it for parking during the weekdays, an indication of the need for more parking.
Assembling a plan has been underway for months. Earlier this week, a group of stakeholders met and will begin work to help advise the kind of development that would be best. The group includes representatives of the downtown and some young professionals who have an interest in seeing the downtown grow.
The city is still working on what Thallemer described as “a few hangups”. A more formal announcement could happen soon.
“Hopefully, within a few weeks, it will be ready to go,” Thallemer said.