Fairgrounds relocation, downtown parking garage part of massive OrthoWorx proposal

State Rep. Craig Snow, left, talks during a news conference with local media Monday morning about the $30 million OrthoWorx proposal. Also pictured are KEDCo President and CEO Peggy Friday (behind Snow) and (L-R) K21 Health Foundation President and CEO Rich Haddad, OrthoWorx board memger Suzie Light and OrthoWorx President and CEO Bob Vitoux. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.
By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — A downtown parking garage in Warsaw and relocation of the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds are two of eleven proposals unveiled Monday morning by an OrthoWorx committee charged with deploying $30 million from the state to attract orthopedic workers and fuel more orthopedic business growth in Kosciusko County.

The proposal was unveiled by OrthoWorx “visioning” committee members in a meeting with local media that includes OrthWorx CEO Bob Vitoux and State Rep. Craig Snow.

(See the complete list of projects below)

Some of the projects would be developed over a span of many years, but officials say they believe three projects are essentially shovel-ready.

State lawmakers approved a plan in 2023 to provide OrthoWorx with $30 million to develop quality-of-life projects that will help beef up the local orthopedic workforce (many of whom commute to Warsaw) and spur more business in the local orthopedic industry.

The visioning committee has been developing the 11 proposals for months.

Officials want to see the parking garage proposal, the housing projects and a community amenities program begin quickly.

“We’re trying to get those three projects up and going so we can get them completed as quickly as we can to show some quick wins — and the community needs it,” Snow said.

The proposed 350-vehicle parking garage would be among the first that could come to fruition, but that could still take a few years.

Suzie Light, a longtime OrthoWorx board member and a recent interim co-director of Kosciusko Economic Development Corp., said KEDCO commissioned a parking study that illustrated the need for some kind of change.

“The results clearly indicate we need to do something different than what we’re currently doing,” Light said.

Warsaw’s Community and Economic Development Director, Jeremy Skinner, said the city supports the concept of a city-county parking garage, but that some kind of agreement will be needed with county leaders.

Vitoux said both the city and county would be expected to contribute additional money on top of the OrthoWorx funding for the parking garage.

The proposal to relocate the fairgrounds would begin with a feasibility study. No potential new site has been identified.

Snow said fair board officials are supportive of the concept, but conceded that it’s a hot-button issue for some people.

Relocating the fairgrounds would open the door for the development of the existing land along Winona Lake.

Developing workforce housing is at the top of the list of projects and has an estimated $6 contribution from OrthoWorx.

Officials say they want to jump-start three existing housing projects and would use OrthoWorx money to fill in the gaps of funding that still exist with the projects involving the old Owens property and the old Gatke property.

Skinner said they’d also like to dedicate money to revive the old multi-use development near Center Lake at the end of Buffalo Street —  a development that was sidelined when the developer, Dave Matthews, essentially walked away from commitments with the city.

The city pushed Matthew aside from the multi-use project after he quit taking phone calls, and Skinner said Monday he believes Matthew has no further interest in completing the rest of the remaining housing development.

The amenities program could also be one of the first initiatives that gains traction. Skinner has been reaching out to communities throughout the county to see what types of projects they need assistance with.

The influx of new monies could potentially coincide with existing projects that have been developed through a local initiative known as HELP.

Other sources of money

Officials are looking at dovetailing OrthoWorx money with other big sources of funding. Among those: Grace College has applied for a Lilly Endowment grant program known as the College and Community Collaboration grant that could provide millions for some of the projects outlined in the OrthoWorx plan that have direct connections to Grace.

Officials also hope to tap into the state’s regional READI grant program which could be announced this summer.

“Just the timing of all of this has been pretty amazing and fortuitous, and hopefully, it actually moves us faster — or more — than just the $30 million,” said Rich Haddad, President and CEO of the K21 Health Foundation who is also part of the OrthoWorx visioning committee.

“There’s several opportunities that I think, with these funds, we can hopefully connect all those dots and maximize the capital investment in Kosciusko County,” Haddad said.

Snow said he’s made several trips to Washington D.C., where he spoke with numerous elated leaders including Indiana Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, who is now the Republican nominee in the race for governor, in hopes of winning federal financial support.

On top of that, officials believe some of the orthopedic firms could also contribute financially, although nothing has been secured at this point.

The OrthoWorx initiative has caught the attention of local orthopedic firms.

“It’s engaged our orthopedic community unlike we’ve seen them engaged in at least my 30 years” of involvement, Vitoux said.

Eleven projects

The following are the 11 proposals set forth by the OrthoWorx visioning committee. Note that the combined total price tags assigned to each project don’t add up to $30 million provided by the state. Officials say the cost estimates are rough and that they believe more money will become available.

Workforce Housing – The city of Warsaw intends to use upward of $6 million to fill in the gaps on two existing housing projects, Mill Works, which is on the old Owens property, and the housing proposal that will replace the old Gatke site while also directing some of that money to kick-start the Buffalo Street mixed-use project that fell by the wayside in an earlier project that was part of the Buffalo Street redevelopment project. $6 million

Community Amenities Program – OrthoWorx hopes to identify and support various projects sought by local communities and could very well complement projects already identified by the HELP program. $5 million

City-County Parking Structure – The city of Warsaw and Kosciusko County government are looking at a joint project to construct a 350-space parking garage somewhere in the immediate downtown. The garage would ease parking in the downtown and support a possible performing arts center. $5 million.

Orthopedic Innovation Research Center – The focus would be on education, training, and research involving med tech. $5 million

Innovation Development District – Viewed as a super-charged tax increment finance district that would be similar to innovation development districts elsewhere in the state. $2 million

Fairgrounds relocation and development – Officials hope to work with the Kosciusko County fair board and 4-H officials on a feasibility study that would identify what is needed and possible new locations. Moving the fairgrounds would open the door for redeveloping the existing land off Winona Avenue. $1-2 million

Winona Avenue project – The plan is to renovate the corridor between Warsaw and Winona Lake in a way that promotes walkability, commercial redevelopment and improved traffic designs. $1-2 million

Community Experiences Program – develop a matching grant program to promote entertainment, eateries, and venues in underutilized, vacant, and upper-story spaces in downtown buildings. $1-2 million

Business Innovation Center – Construct an 18,000-square-foot building as a business innovation center to provide a community forum, educational space and business development space for Grace College. $2 million

Community fieldhouse – Develop a new 72,000 square-foot indoor sports field that will allow for a variety of community recreational events while providing Grace College student athletes with an indoor practice facility. $3 million

Gordon Health Center – Renovate the existing health center to enhance the indoor track, sports courts, pickleball courts, new fitness facility and health clinic. $1 million