Another significant vote took place on Election Day, and it was unanimous. Now, like the candidates for public office who celebrated victory Tuesday night, the developers of Electric Works have to make their campaign promises a reality.
The Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board approved the final and by far the biggest piece of the public-funding package, promising to issue $45 million in bonds for the ambitious project. Despite rumors it might be close; the directors' 7-0 vote was yet one more sign support for the project from key sectors of the community is coalescing.
As The Journal Gazette's Sherry Slater reported Sunday, Indiana University has joined the educational institutions planning to have a presence on the former General Electric campus, possibly in conjunction with Parkview Health. Parkview last month announced plans to take a 10-year lease at Electric Works for a health clinic, research facilities and possible work on nutritional health in the planned food court.
Dr. Michael Mirro, a Parkview vice president who is also chairman of the IU Board of Trustees, told Slater the school is hoping Purdue University will seek a presence in the development southwest of downtown Fort Wayne. Indiana Tech and Fort Wayne Community Schools have already signaled their interest in leasing space. The head of another prominent Fort Wayne enterprise, Chuck Surack of Sweetwater, has indicated his interest in becoming an investor.
Now RTM Ventures, the Electric Works development consortium, has to achieve the benchmarks it promised Mayor Tom Henry before he agreed to push the local public-funding plan. By the end of next month, it needs to have 100,000 square feet in lease commitments, and by the end of next June, promises to lease at least 250,000 square feet from new-to-the-area businesses or for expansions by local concerns. RTM also needs to finalize a large private construction loan and buy more New Markets Tax Credits from other communities.
The $65 million in public money won't be touched until the other strands of the deal fall into place.
But if they do, work would begin later next year on what could be one of the most exciting projects in Fort Wayne history. The GE campus, now a mute monument to what once was one of Indiana's biggest and most vibrant factories, could be reanimated as a center for education, health care, research and entrepreneurship as well as residential, retail and office space. The expected metamorphosis is already revitalizing nearby neighborhoods. It could boost economic development and improve quality of life far beyond those neighboring streets.
There is risk in backing any project of this size. The courage, vision and enthusiasm of public leaders and other citizens continue to improve the odds that Electric Works will succeed.