The Fort Wayne City Council on Tuesday deferred votes on two items related to the planned Electric Works development south of downtown and a senior community slated for Auburn Road.
A nonbinding resolution Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, offered on the Electric Works project asks that the city's Community Development Division include negotiations for federal New Markets Tax Credits in the framework for public funding.
“As you know, council has advocated for a comprehensive negotiation, a comprehensive deal to make the GE project happen,” Jehl said. “However with the New Markets Tax Credits, there has been an application from the developer to Community Development which has been negotiated apart from the larger deal and that application is for $20 million of those New Markets Tax Credits.”
RTM Ventures, the project developer, has requested $65 million in public funds to support the $221 million first phase, which includes multi-use redevelopment of the former General Electric Plant's west campus off Broadway. The project has already been awarded $50 million in other state tax credits.
New Markets Tax Credits are awarded to municipalities by the U.S. Treasury Department via a competitive application process. Cities that receive the tax credits then pass those along to selected projects.
Eligible projects must be in a qualifying low-income area and have a considerable community impact.
Although projects must be primarily commercial, mixed-used developments are eligible for funding. Fort Wayne was one of only 73 communities nationwide to receive the tax credits this year. A total of 230 communities applied.
The tax credits announced in February will be used over the next two years.
Jehl contends that if Community Development negotiates on New Markets Tax Credits on its own, the city would be negotiating against itself as it tries to secure $50 million in public funds to support the development.
“Until a comprehensive deal is struck, it does not make any sense for the city of Fort Wayne to be awarding money to the development without using it as part of the larger deal and to close the funding gap,” Jehl said.
Jehl noted that the council does not have a say in how New Markets Tax Credits are awarded. He said his resolution is meant to foster a public discussion.
In a 6-3 vote, Jehl's resolution was held for two weeks to allow Community Development time to come to the table to discuss the tax credit application. Jehl was joined by Councilmen Paul Ensley, R-1st, and Jason Arp, R-4th, against the hold.
Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, suggested the hold, given that Community Development has a new director in Cindy Joyner. Barranda said he's inclined to support Jehl's resolution, a sentiment echoed by Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th. Hines said he has been unable to get answers related to New Markets Tax Credits from city officials.
Jehl said he requested city officials with Community Development and Mayor Tom Henry's office be present for Tuesday's meeting but said that request was declined.
Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said he has mixed feelings about the resolution, although he appreciates Jehl's effort. Paddock supported holding the resolution for two weeks.
“No one from the administration is kind of weighing in on this right now, so I don't see anything wrong with holding it,” Paddock said. “I guess I have some mixed feelings about it. I would I guess like to see if this is something that would be acceptable or reasonable to the administration.”
In other business, the City Council unanimously approved a 30-day deferral of a vote over a rezoning proposal for a planned 60-unit senior housing development on Auburn Road.
Residents from the nearby Sandy Pointe and Woodland Lake neighborhoods raised concerns in recent weeks about the size of the development and its impact on property values and drainage in the area. Primarily, residents say the development does not fit with the existing single-family homes that surround the site. Several council members have said they received more than 50 emails apiece from residents opposed to the proposal.
On Tuesday, Jehl, who represents the district where the development is located, praised the developer, ASH Holdings, for showing sensitivity. The hold was requested so the developer can negotiate with a coalition of homeowners who wish to purchase the property.
“I would encourage my constituents insofar as ASH is producing such goodwill here, that as you work with ASH you perform accordingly and reciprocate that to get the deal done as quickly as possible,” Jehl said.
The rezoning proposal could be voted on as early as June 12.