The Journal Gazette
Friday, June 01, 2018 1:00 am

Study shows need exists for Electric Works

Underserved markets could benefit

DAVE GONG | For The Journal Gazette

A study commissioned by developers of the Electric Works project found there is demand for the type of space the redeveloped General Electric campus would create. 

The developers of the proposed project believe the results of the study of downtown Fort Wayne's real estate market will help convince officials considering a public funding package that the development will strengthen the city. 

The study performed by Maryland real estate adviser RCLCO found that the Fort Wayne market is large enough to absorb the more than 600,000 square feet of commercial, retail, education, innovation and residential space planned as part of Phase One, Adam Ducker, RCLCO's managing partner of real estate, said Thursday.

RTM Ventures, the firm developing the Electric Works site, commissioned the study. 

Thursday's presentation comes at a time when RTM Ventures, is trying to secure $65 million in public funding from city and Allen County sources. Mayor Tom Henry has suggested the city provide $50 million, including $13.6 million from the Legacy Fund in the form of a loan and a grant. At a community forum earlier this week, Jeff Kingsbury, a partner in RTM Ventures, indicated a public funding package could be announced soon. 

Phase One would include 224,000 square feet of office space, 113,000 square feet of research/education space, 83,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 83,000 square feet of innovation space, 82,000 square feet of apartments and 31,000 square feet of recreational space. 

According to a summary of the findings, RCLCO found Electric Works' proposed rent costs are reasonable for the market and noted that redeveloping the site is likely “to tap into new market segments which are presently underserved in Fort Wayne.”

An assessment of the Electric Works site listed the campus's uniqueness and historical significance – as well as its proximity to Parkview Field and the rest of downtown – as strengths, but noted negatives in the reputation of the surrounding neighborhood and the fact that the site is bounded by railroads on two sides. 

“While the site itself and its proximity to downtown Fort Wayne are both appealing, and while the economic makeup of the surrounding area may change following the redevelopment of Electric Works, the surrounding area may repel individuals looking for a more established place to live or work in the near-term,” the study states. 

That said, the study also said Electric Works has the opportunity to strengthen the surrounding neighborhood and fill an existing gap in available office, retail and residential space in downtown Fort Wayne. 

In an interview after Thursday's presentation, Kevan Biggs, president of Biggs Development and a partner in RTM Ventures, said the findings were better than the development team anticipated. 

“We are very pleased with the data that's being presented by RCLCO,” Biggs said. “It really does validate a lot of the initial assumptions that we made more than a year ago as we put the project together and put the financial model together.”

Biggs said RTM Ventures will continue to work with local funding sources to identify the amount of public funding that will be made available. Biggs said the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board heard Ducker's presentation during an executive session Thursday morning. That body should be making a decision in the near future about how much money it will contribute, Biggs said.

“We're starting to narrow down and isolate some of those variables as more of these bodies can get comfortable with the project and make decisions to fund. I feel pretty confident in the next 30 to 60 days that will all be clear and on the path to closing,” Biggs said. “Then it's our job to finish what we need to do, in terms of securing the private financing and securing the leases.”

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, was the only member of the Fort Wayne City Council to attend Thursday's presentation. In an interview Thursday, Jehl said performing a feasibility study was a smart move but is only part of the equation, which still requires identified costs and an identified rate of return on the city's investment. 

“The other things I thought about today regarding the feasibility study, is I hope that it shines some light on retail in particular. The quantity of retail space downtown is very small,” Jehl said. “Projects like The Landing and Continental will increase retail downtown. What does this project do on top of that?”

Jehl noted that had the feasibility study indicated that the project had no chance of success, any discussion related to public funding would be a moot point. Jehl said he's ready to see more details and determine whether there's a business case to be made for public investment.

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