Gatke Property’s Future Could Be Mixed-Use

The former Gatke property on McKinley Street may become a commercial and residential development. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

A presentation on the former Gatke Corp. site by Rebar Development owner and President Shelby Bowen had the Warsaw Redevelopment Commission excited Monday about the potential future of the property on McKinley Street.

His presentation involved two projects bundled into one that would cost an estimated $14.4 million. The warehouse would be redeveloped into commercial space, while a new building next to it would include some commercial space and residential units.

Warsaw Community Economic and Development Director Jeremy Skinner provided copies of a development agreement in the Commission members’ board packet. He said the agreement would be finalized over the next few months, but there were some initial steps before they got to that point.

“This agreement kind of has all the details in it, which will come a little later, but we did provide that so you have plenty of time to review it,” Skinner said.

He said the Commission wasn’t being asked to vote on anything Monday, but the Commission did end up voting to proceed with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and Rebar.

In starting his presentation, which included renderings and plans on a screen, Bowen said, “Thank you, Jeremy, Mayor (Joe Thallemer), (Kosciusko Economic Development Corp. Chief Executive Officer) Alan (Tio), I really appreciate your support as we kind of really spent a lot of time thinking about this, and getting to this point where I felt comfortable to where I could present it to you all.”

He said there’s been a lot of progress happening in Warsaw over the last four to five years. Bowen said he started Rebar Development about four years ago, but prior to that he was involved in mixed-use development in Carmel from 2004-13 and in Fishers for two years.

“In that period of time, from ’04 until now, 100% of the projects that I have worked on have been public-private partnerships, every single one, and there have been many,” Bowen said.

As to why Warsaw, he said he believes the city has a momentum and there’s still a niche for a product that Rebar delivers, which is “mixed-used with multi-family and commercial in key areas,” and he’s interested “in working with communities that are actively investing in themselves.”

On the Gatke project, he said he loves the location and it’s a redevelopment opportunity. Bowen said he also liked the fact that the city owns the property.

“So it’s just a matter of can we put the pieces together. A, do we have a common vision that’s feasible; and then, B, can we kind of make those resources happen? And that’s kind of what I’m here for today,” he said.

The project would entail rehabbing the warehouse. “What we would propose to do is completely demolish everything but the steel frame and the concrete slab, and rebuild the warehouse really to try to make it reflect the history of that site,” he said as Skinner pulled up a rendering of the proposal. “We would propose to essentially keep the exact same skeleton, and rebuild it to look like a really beautiful commercial building, warehouse style, that we think is appropriate for this site.”

The original building was constructed about 115 years ago, with Gatke Corp. taking over the property in 1926. The company closed about 23 years ago, with the city owning the property for the last 18 years.

For the second part of the project, Bowen said they are proposing to work with the city to demolish all of the other structures on the site and build a new four-story mixed-use building. There would be commercial on the first floor facing McKinley, and then apartments above.

“So we propose 20,000 total square feet  between the warehouse, which would potentially be 18,000 square feet, and about 2,000 square feet in our mixed-used building,” Bowen said.

He said though they haven’t marketed or publicized the project, Rebar already has had a lot of people reach out to them about commercial space in the proposed building. He said he believes the lofts will rent out quickly.

“One of the things we don’t do, because we are a small firm and we can only do a few of these projects at a time, is that I’m not really a tire-kicker. We want to do this, and we drafted the project agreement, which costs us time and money. And we had our structural team up here, we’ve had our civil engineer, our general contractor and our architect have all been here to meet on site and provide any reports. We’ve done a construction estimate. We’ve taken all the steps. We reached out to our environmental firm to do a peer review of all of the work you have already put in. And so, when I come to you today, and we present the project agreement, it’s to show you that we really want to move forward,” Bowen said.

“And the second part to that is, as you all know, the Ready Grant program, if, in fact, the region is selected and our project is in that, along with many, many others, we want to be well-positioned to take advantage of that opportunity by having a shovel-ready project that’s really Ready Grant’s last dollars in.”

Skinner said the Commission’s next step would be for a MOU to be drafted off the agreement, saying the Commission was working with Rebar and it would give him time to develop the project.

Commission President Tim Meyer asked  how many apartments would there be. Bowen said 70 total, more or less, but not more than 80 and that was due to parking availability. The apartments would be market-rate apartments, according to Skinner. Skinner said the city needs apartments and, on average, Warsaw apartments are $100 more a month than apartments in Columbia City or Fort Wayne.

Tio said a market potential study indicated a demand for about 90 new rental units a year for five years. That’s 450 new rental units, in addition to row homes and single-family, he said.

Thallemer said Tio had worked with Bowen and “we had some early conversation. We’ve seen the projects that they’ve done in other communities. …  We’ve talked forever about the Gatke site. We’ve entertained how many proposals, everything from a rock-climbing wall to who-knows-what. And Shelby brought this project to the table, Jeremy and I just looked at each other, it’s like, ‘This is scratching all the itches,’ the housing especially.”

Having a bit of that “Gatke vibe from long ago,” he said, seemed to be important to the community. “The community didn’t want to get rid of that building. We just couldn’t find the right project. When this project was presented to us, it was a project that wasn’t just a drawing. … It was a project that had a path forward.”

Thallemer said it’s a beautiful project and it’s all doable.

Commission Vice President Rick Snodgrass asked about the cost of the project. Bowen said, as of a few days ago, it was $14.4 million total for both buildings. The warehouse project would be about $2.5 million, with the lofts over $11 million. Snodgrass asked what percentage of that would Rebar be providing.

“Probably around 65%, is usually where it’s been coming in at. And we’ll have real cash in it,” he said, adding that they would be “all in.” He said it would be a significant investment from the city, but it’s based on what they can do that’s market feasible.

Snodgrass said it’s the best proposal for the Gatke property he’s seen since he’s been on the Commission.

Asked for a time frame, Bowen said they could start on the warehouse building by the summer. The lofts will start as soon as they can, but would have a longer time frame.

By mid to late December, Tio said they should know about the Ready Grant from the state.

Councilman Mike Klondaris said it looked like a “very exciting project.” Councilman Jeff Grose made a motion to proceed on the MOU, with Snodgrass providing the second, and it was approved 5-0.