With fate of Alick's lot settled, questions remain

Rendering provided The Elkhart Redevelopment Commission decided Tuesday to sell land in the 900 block of East Jackson Boulevard to Portage Place Development LLC, a group that plans to build 21 high-end condominiums. This rendering shows one of the styles that have been proposed for the development. 

ELKHART — Though a decision has been made on the future of the former Alick’s property in the 900 block of East Jackson Boulevard, questions remain about the high-end condominiums that will be built, as well as where the Elkhart Rowing Club might drop anchor now.

The Redevelopment Commission, in a 3-1 vote, decided Tuesday to sell the land for $100,000 to Portage Place Development LLC, which plans to build 21 condominiums for the high-end market.

But the commission has conditions.

One of them, said now former Redevelopment Commission President Steve Eldridge, is that there be public access to the river.

Brian Smith, one of the partners behind Portage Place Development, said Wednesday that the group expects to get an email with the commission’s wishes in the next few days.

“I’d prefer not to have public access,” he said, adding that public access could mean many things, and that the group is willing to discuss the issue.

Smith seemed confident that a solution to that and other conditions can be found.

“We’ll be able to sit down across from each other and hammer something out,” he said.

Eldridge, who stepped down following the Tuesday meeting after two decades on the commission, voted for the condominiums along with Wes Steffen and Sandi Schreiber. Kyle Hannon voted against the proposal and John Horvath abstained from voting.

“It basically came down to the fact that I thought that, because it was in a residential neighborhood, it should stay residential,” Eldridge said.

Though he sees the rowing club’s idea as a good project, Eldridge thought there was too much uncertainty in their plan, and he felt better letting a group with more development experience do the job. He also had doubts about the rowing club’s ability to raise the money required to complete their plan.

“Raising funds in the $6 million category that they mentioned, that’s a big, big project, and I’ve watched over the last 10 years in particular as (others) struggled to get money for the Aquatics Center and for a few other projects that have gone on around the area,” Eldridge said.

Another concern about the rowing club bid was that it would worsen traffic at the intersection of East Jackson Boulevard and Goshen Avenue, which already has a reputation for being bad.

Before construction of the condominiums can begin, work needs to be done to make certain the property is “shovel ready,” but that can be figured out at the same time as the negotiations between the commission and the developers, Eldridge said.

He expects negotiations to take 30 to 45 days, during which preliminary work can begin.

Beyond public access, the negotiations will largely be about getting all details in black and white, so there are no doubts about who is responsible for what, according to Eldridge.

And what if an agreement can’t be reached, or Portage Place Development can’t get the job done?

“That was really one of our questions as we thought about that over the last 90 days or so, what we’ll do. And the answer to that is, we’re not sure yet,” Eldridge said.

But should either of those things happen, the lot would likely sit for another six months before the commission would make a new request for proposals, he said.

Given his retirement from the commission, Eldridge will not have a vote in the negotiations, but he is willing to share his expertise. The commission on Tuesday voted to consider hiring outside help for the discussions, considering that remaining members could be lacking Eldridge’s experience.

As for what the rowing club will do, treasurer Tom Shoff said in an email Wednesday that members will soon begin developing a new plan.

Rod Roberson, district director of co-curricular programming at Elkhart Community Schools, said the commission’s decision will not hinder the creation of a high school crew club. 

“The decision (Tuesday) night does not douse the light on this high school crew program. It just creates the need for us to find the right place that we can put kids on the water,” Roberson said.

Roberson, who is running for Elkhart mayor as a Democrat, said the idea didn’t begin with the Alick’s site, and though that would have been a good location, another one can be found.

One might be by the Six-Span Bridge, though Shoff was skeptical of that idea after the Tuesday vote. Roberson agreed it is not a particularly good location, but said it’s still an option.

“That isn’t ideal because of the pace of the water flow there, but it won’t be ruled out until we look at what could be more ideal,” he said.

And even without a boathouse, there can still be a crew club.

“A boathouse isn’t needed to put kids on the water. We want shelter for, obviously, the boats, and that can be done in a different manner than a true boathouse to the tune of the one that was being suggested for the Alick’s site,” Roberson said.

As Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial high schools are set to merge in the coming years, the need for new athletic opportunities for students will grow, and Roberson said crew might have up to 100 student athletes.

“When kids are participating in these activities, they’re spending productive time doing things that offer something to who they’re going to become, inevitably, as adults,” he said. “So it is absolutely paramount that we have these kinds of programs to offer our kids.”

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

(5) comments

correction

Nothing screams sustainable like, "financial promises from prominent families". Why don't these families buy their own plot of land and start their rowing club without piggie backing off the city, they've certainly got the funds.....

Tom Shoff

As to Mr. Eldridge's traffic concerns. Our proposal clearly addressed and alleviated any traffic issues. The students participating in rowing would be walking to the site from central or be bused from Memorial. The Condo project will have 42 cars coming and going on a daily basis.

Joe King

“I’d prefer not to have public access,” he said, adding that public access could mean many things..."....yep, our public tax dollar at work for the elitist trying to keep us serfs out..... City with a Heart? meh....

sidearm

I don't like the result of the vote either Joe but if this decision stands the condo owners deserve to have private access to the river. There are many public access spots very close to this location that get little or no use. Why do you always pit the "elite" against the little guy? Obviously you are a little jealous of the successful people on both sides of this issue.

Tom Shoff

The Elkhart Redevelopment Commission did not follow their own RFP. On Page 4, Part D: The Redevelopment Commission is requesting that the development proposal include a public easement to provide access to the St. Joseph River. The design, location and size should be defined as part of the development proposal. Mr. Eldridge knew fully well that Elkhart Rowing had the backing to fund the project. We turned in 31 signed Pledge to Pledge forms from prominent families in Elkhart pledging their financial support. A member of the RDC of Nappanee was in the audience was in the audience the evening of the "vote" he said he had never seen anything like this before. Zero or little discussion and no reason for the decision. I hope the community continues to demand answers.

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