FORT WAYNE – The Indiana Hotel, which has languished empty for decades, could return to life under an ambitious plan by Embassy Theatre officials.
Last December, Embassy Theatre Foundation officials said they would take a year to talk to donors, stakeholders and others about their plans, which are highlighted by a two-story ballroom able to seat 300 people, and a roof-top garden and bar overlooking Fort Wayne's revitalized downtown.
Executive Director Kelly Updike said those conversations are still occurring, but they hope to have "something significant" to announce by the end of March.
The former hotel wraps in an L-shape around the Embassy Theatre, fronting Jefferson Boulevard and Harrison Street. But much of the Harrison portion of the "L" is now only a facade, after a 1995 project expanded the Embassy stage into its space.
That project also created the two-story Indiana Hotel Lobby area, and a $1.55 million project in 2010 installed another elevator that goes from the basement to the seventh floor and an elevator shaft from the third to seventh floors. It also turned the third floor into a walkway for the bridges that connect the Courtyard Hotel to the Embassy and Grand Wayne Center.
Even with the loss of space on the Harrison Street side of the building, each floor has about 7,000 square feet of space.
"There's a lot of excitement," Updike said. "People do love the Embassy and want to see it active and strong."
Couples looking to get married also love the Embassy Lobby and its Grand Staircase for wedding photos, but the lobby can't seat enough people for many weddings and receptions, Updike said.
But converting the sixth and seventh floors of the seven-story building into a two-story ballroom with balconies and a grand staircase would solve the problem, she said.
And better yet, other entities nearby, such as Grand Wayne Center, say the uniqueness of the space means it would not be competition for them.
The fourth floor of the Indiana Hotel would become administrative offices, under the plan, and the space they now occupy on the second floor would become a public space, such as a lounge. The fifth floor would become a rehearsal studio. Some undeveloped space in the lower level near the backstage dressing rooms could become more dressing rooms.
Officials declined to release any sketches or renderings of the project.
The only drawback, officials said, is the price tag – estimated at $10 million – and how to get it. Even getting to this point has been a long road.
"The board began serious discussions several years ago to identify uses for the building that would further our mission, contribute to the overall revitalization of downtown Fort Wayne, and enhance quality of life in northeast Indiana," said Marla Peters, president of the board, via email. "We identified a myriad of possibilities and then did the hard work of determining which was the absolute best fit for our community and for the Embassy."
But the year spent discussing the idea has been worth it and will pay off in any future capital campaigns, she said.
"We are confident we have hit the mark with our final vision," Peters said. "Reopening and revitalizing the upper floors of the Indiana Hotel will be an incredible addition to the already vibrant and thriving Embassy Theatre and Indiana Hotel Lobby and will bring more people downtown to enjoy all the city has to offer."
The undeveloped floors of the building, underneath decades of dust, still have the charm of an old hotel, such as solid wood doors, porcelain fixtures and sinks with three knobs – hot, cold and ice cold. But the windows now look out on a modern, thriving downtown: from the expanded Grand Wayne Center to the new Courtyard hotel.
From the roof, you can see home plate at Parkview Field.
Updike said the vision was developed within the framework of the economic studies the city of Fort Wayne did before construction of Harrison Square so it fits into, rather than competes against, surrounding efforts. She said about one-third of the Embassy's patrons come from outside Allen County, and there is nothing like what is planned in northeast Indiana.
Officials say they not only believe this is the best plan for the building, the Embassy and downtown Fort Wayne, but can't wait to see it happen.
"Personally, I am already trying to come up with a reason to host an event in the new space when the project is complete!" Peters said.