NEW ALBANY — "Heart stopping."

That's how Jill Herron, senior vice president at Flaherty & Collins Properties, described getting the call Saturday morning that a fire was taking over part of The Breakwater, a just-built luxury apartment complex in downtown New Albany. 

"Your always first concern is your residents, employees, the community. You want to make sure that everyone is safe," Herron said. 

"And then your heart just goes out to knowing that somebody has been affected or that we have to start this process over again. And so that's always hard."

Fire crews from New Albany, Jeffersonville, Clarksville and Georgetown responded to reports of a fire at Fourth and Elm streets around 5 a.m. Officials believe the fire started in a third floor corner unit. High winds pushed smoke and fanned flames around the block throughout the afternoon. 

The building was still under construction and almost ready for final inspection. Herron said around 80 of the building's 125 units were believed to be impacted. On Sunday, New Albany fire crews used an excavator to tear down portions of the building along Elm Street that had been too damaged to remain standing.

Property management was hoping to start moving people in by mid-March, she said. Sixteen leases already have been signed, according to an email from Flaherty & Collins. The company is looking into moving those lease holders into the complex's second, 66-unit building located at the corner of Fifth and Spring streets. 

"We've already contacted residents or future prospects and future residents that there's going to be a delay," Herron said. "And hopefully by the middle of next week or within two weeks, we'll be able to give a better idea of when construction will begin again and when we'll be able to have those apartments and get people moved in."

The 66-unit building that holds 45 occupants was not affected by the fire. 

The $26.5-million project broke ground in December 2015. The complex spans 206,000 square-feet and sits off Spring Street on what used to be the Coyle Chevrolet/Dodge site. 

Diane Christopher, owner of Sweet Stuff Bakery on the corner of Fourth and Spring streets, watched the complex go from an empty lot to a block full of luxury apartments. 

On Saturday, she watched as flames emanated from windows and smoke rolled through Spring Street. 

"At one point we could look out at Spring Street and you couldn't see very far at all because it was all smoke," Christopher said. "I suspect if the winds had shifted we wouldn't be standing here right now, because I'm quite sure they would have closed us down."

Customers still shuffled in and out through the morning, chatting about the fire across the street. If customers couldn't drive close enough to the bakery because of barricaded streets, Sweet Stuff employees delivered to their customers waiting at the nearest location. 

The fire may not have halted Saturday business, but it still stings. Christopher said she was "so excited" when she saw fencing around the complex being removed on Friday. To her, it was a sign that the complex was nearing completion. 

"It's just so disappointing," she said. "We've been so excited for New Albany and everything it was going to bring to New Albany, and so I'm really disappointed that it looks like that's been a huge bump in the road for them."

Herron said police and fire officials from New Albany and surrounding cities were "absolutely amazing" in their response. That made it at least a little easier to figure out what comes next. 

"We've built it once," she said. "We'll build it again and get ready for our new residents."

Elizabeth DePompei is the digital editor for The News and Tribune. She has degrees in journalism and film from the University of Cincinnati and CUNY's Hunter College and was previously the paper's criminal justice reporter.

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