In a unanimous vote Friday, the Allen County commissioners pledged $3.5 million toward the Electric Works redevelopment project south of downtown Fort Wayne.
The pledge is contingent upon the developer, RTM Ventures, meeting the same benchmarks outlined in an economic development agreement signed in August. No public funds will be dispersed until those conditions have been met.
“This is a pledge to the (Allen County) Redevelopment Commission that (the commissioners) are agreeable to this particular amount of money, but the money is not actually expended until mid next year,” said Chris Cloud, the commissioners' chief of staff.
Commissioner Linda Bloom said although she was initially skeptical of the project, she now supports the development. Bloom said she was raised on that side of town and had three family members who worked at the former General Electric plant.
“The more I talk to people, the more I think that this is a really good thing because we still have so many people unemployed,” Bloom said.
There are safeguards in place in the agreement with RTM Ventures before the money is spent, Commissioner Nelson Peters said. There are protections in place to prevent the developers from taking the money and abandoning the project, Peters added. That means the developers have to maintain 1.25 times the total operating cost of the project over 18 months, he said.
“I honestly believe that if all the tenets of that agreement are met by the developers, we've got an absolute transformational project that will indeed create jobs and do some of the things that we all hope for this community,” Peters said.
There is more clarity about the vision and mission of the project now than there was nearly a year ago when the commissioners were first engaged in the process, Commissioner Therese Brown said.
“Having been an individual who has lived on that side of town, I see – even at this point in time – a lot of transformation in attitude, as well as property exchange and a lot of hope out in that area,” Brown said. “And I think as a region, we would be falling short if we didn't take the necessary steps, the risks, that we need to show that we really are a game-changer and we want this community to move forward.”
In a statement Friday, Josh Parker, one of the partners in RTM Ventures, thanked the commissioners for their commitment.
“From the beginning, the Commissioners have been strong supporters of our vision for the redevelopment of the former GE campus into a mixed-use district of innovation, energy and culture. Their vote to support local funding for Electric Works is another critical step forward in making this vision a reality. In addition, they recognize – as we do – that investment in downtown Fort Wayne benefits all of Allen County and throughout the region,” Parker said. “It's also important to note that, with today's vote, Mayor (Tom) Henry, Fort Wayne City Council and Allen County Commissioners have all affirmed their support for local funding of Electric Works. It is now up to their appointees on the Capital Improvement Board to approve the final portion of local funding for this transformational project.”
The Fort Wayne City Council this week approved a $10 million Legacy Fund request to support the development. The Legacy Fund consists of money generated by the lease and sale of the city's old power utility.