The Journal Gazette
Saturday, May 23, 2020 1:00 am

Electric Works gets approval for crucial tax credit

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

RTM Ventures is one step closer to bringing Electric Works to life.

The team developing the former General Electric campus has received National Park Service approval for Part 2 of its federal Historic Tax Credit application. Part 3, the final approval, can be granted only after construction is complete.

Securing the tax credits is one of the requirements to qualify for $62 million in local funding toward the $248 million mixed-use project that will include office, education, innovation and community spaces. The project's Phase 2 will include residential space.

The Historic Tax Credit program provides a 20% federal tax credit to property owners who “undertake a substantial rehabilitation of a historic building in a business or income-producing use while maintaining its historic character,” according to the Park Service's website.

Recipients, such as Electric Works, sell the tax credits to investors who can apply them for credit against their federal income taxes. The designation is expected to bring an estimated $34 million in private investment to the local project.

Jeff Kingsbury, a partner in RTM Ventures, said the developers have accomplished about 60% of the city's requirements for closing on the deal. He's confident they will meet the June 30 deadline for all criteria.

Closing on financing from all sources would happen on the same day, expected to be sometime before Oct. 1.

Other city requirements include securing leasing agreements for at least 100,000 square feet on the campus. That line item was emphatically checked off three months ago.

Do it Best signed onto Electric Works in February, promising to lease almost 200,000 square feet for its corporate headquarters, with an option for 20,000 square feet more. The hardware cooperative will move in 440 employees and create up to 90 jobs over several years.

Building 26, which is slated to become Do it Best's new headquarters, was built in 1916 for $275,000. At the time, it was the largest building in Fort Wayne. About 8,000 people attended the dedication Jan. 26, 1917. 

Kingsbury, who is partners with Josh Parker and Kevan Biggs, said receiving Part 2 approval is significant on several levels. It validates the decision to save the buildings from demolition, and it will bring private investment to the project that wouldn't have come without the historic status.

“The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive program recognizes that these historic, legacy industrial complexes are unique and important opportunities for the private sector to partner with the public sector – with each bringing resources and tools to achieve market-driven solutions to Indiana communities like Fort Wayne and Allen County,” he said in an email.

“This approval underscores the National Park Service's view of the former General Electric campus as historic and worthy of preservation and new investment,” he added.

Connie Haas Zuber, executive director of ARCH, Fort Wayne's nonprofit historic architecture preservation group, said her organization is a longtime supporter of Electric Works.

She described development of the former General Electric campus as a “transformative and inspiring project that has the potential to help Fort Wayne rise gracefully and energetically out of the pandemic shutdown slump.”

Electric Works, Kingsbury said, “will be a job generator when we really need it.”

“It can be a catalyst for thousands of construction and support jobs over the next two years,” he said.

Haas Zuber put the project into historical terms, saying tens of thousands of local workers and their families had an emotional tie to the campus.

“This place was a part of us for a long time, and it's good that Electric Works and RTM Ventures wants to make it a part of our future, too,” she said in an email. “That way, Fort Wayne keeps its story alive at the same time it capitalizes on the huge heritage investment these buildings and this site represent.”

Asked if reaching this milestone was worth popping open a bottle of champagne, Kingsbury put the federal approval into perspective.

“I think I'll toast with a Mad Anthony beer at this point,” he said, referencing a Fort Wayne brewery. “There's still a lot of work to do. But we need to acknowledge these accomplishments when we get them done, and this was a big one.”

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