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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 02, 2018 1:00 am


City's pledge to Electric Works bears watching

Months of delays in reaching a development agreement did nothing to squelch public enthusiasm for the Electric Works project. Over the past three months, hundreds of area residents have toured the former General Electric campus, eager to see the condition of the39-acre complex and to hear firsthand what its developers hope to do there.

If community interest is strong, Mayor Tom Henry's reservations appear to be stronger. The agreement the city finally brokered with RTM Ventures is cautious – to say the least. Taxpayers can be assured the city drove a hard bargain for its $59 million additional investment in Electric Works, but fans of the project can legitimately ask whether delays in securing the deal and some of its terms aren't intended to waylay it.

One provision requires city approval of commitments to lease a minimum of 250,000 square feet of the project, with at least 150,000 square feet of that tied to tenants new to Allen County or jobs that don't already exist here.

No such requirement was found in the city's agreement for development of The Landing, Skyline Tower or the Ruoff Home Mortgage headquarters; Ruoff announced in May it will move 150 employees from current headquarters on Magnavox Way and possibly add 75 jobs.

The mayor told The Journal Gazette's Dave Gong the other projects had “various benchmarks,” and he insisted the scope of the Electric Works project demanded the requirement.

“It's terribly important to us to have new jobs brought in,” Henry said. “Moving jobs just around the community really isn't going to do that much. We need to create an environment to attract new businesses and new investors and new employees. So we built that in as part of the ultimate agreement and they've agreed to it.”

The developers acknowledged the jobs requirement “is a little unique” but also noted they have promised a “catalytic project.”

One of the partners in RTM Ventures, Kevan Biggs of Biggs Development, said the intent was not just to bring more real estate square footage to Fort Wayne, so they were comfortable with the jobs provision.

In June, The Journal Gazette's Sherry Slater asked Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of the Greater Dubuque Development Corp., about conditions in a draft agreement between the city and RTM. Dickinson, who is not involved in the Electric Works project, pointed out abandoned industrial sites such as the GE campus aren't revitalized on their own. Someone has to step forward and bear the risk in developing them – and some of that risk falls on the city.

“You either fix it, or it gets worse,”he said.  

The 3,000-plus residents who have toured the campus or attended community forums to hear plans for its second life as a business, education, residential and entertainment center are overwhelmingly pushing for the former. Their expectation – and ours – is for the long-sought development agreement to signal greater cooperation from the city in fulfilling its role in the $220 million public-private partnership. We'll be watching next steps in the approval process to see whether the cooperation is genuine.