A Fort Wayne-based private equity firm has proposed to help the city rescue the Electric Works project to rehabilitate the former General Electric campus – but much of the offer may no longer be on the table.
Ambassador Enterprises, in a letter dated Sept. 14 obtained by The Journal Gazette, tells Mayor Tom Henry the firm stands ready to begin “collaboratively working with the city and other strategic partners in developing a financially responsible and economically sustainable plan for Electric Works.”
The letter is signed by Ambassador Vice President Ron Turpin, a former president of Fort Wayne's Legacy Joint Funding Committee.
The Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission pulled the plug on the project Aug. 3 by not extending a final deadline in the city's economic development agreement with developer RTM Ventures, although RTM officials said financing agreements would be in place in a matter of days.
Turpin, who was replaced as a Legacy Joint Funding Committee member by the mayor in 2018, said Tuesday that Ambassador's letter predated a complicated proposal by the Allen County commissioners touted as a way to keep the project on track.
That proposal is for the Allen County Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board to put public money back on the table without borrowing in the form of the potentially costly bond issue as first proposed.
Specifically, the proposal is for RTM, which owns the GE property, to lease it to the board in exchange for rent payments that will finance the improvements, then to lease it back for operations.
In a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, Turpin said Ambassador had been “perplexed” for some time that there has not been more local private investment in the project. He said Ambassador could provide that.
An Ambassador proposal to buy the property was rejected by RTM, and Ambassador is not interested in providing a stake of investment in the project, Turpin said.
RTM officials could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.
“They are going down the path they are with the CIB,” Turpin said. “We want to make a deal happen because we believe in this project and we believe in this city, and we want to do our part in making this happen.”
He called the letter “encouragement” for the mayor that Ambassador would be willing to continue negotiations about “options.”
“We don't want this thing to fall apart and we're willing to talk about options if it comes to that,” Turpin said.
The letter included a hint that going with Ambassador, which lists Daryle Doden as its manager in state corporations records, might save taxpayers money.
“Given our cost-efficient model and legacy-mindset along with the resources available to us, we anticipate that millions of dollars will be saved from current projected costs,” Turpin wrote.
“A legacy mindset,” he said, would view the project as an investment in the future that did not need to produce profit. Ambassador also would like to see the project be more “phased” in its development and “more transparent,” Turpin said.
People also should recognize that involvement in the project will not end with the real estate closing, but there will likely be cost overruns and other issues long into the future, he said.
John Perlich, spokesman for the mayor, confirmed receipt of the letter in an email.
“I don't have any updates in regards to the letter. We're focused on helping find a path for a successful redevelopment project that protects taxpayers and is viable now and in the future.
“It's also vital to keep (anchor tenant) Do it Best as a corporate partner with good jobs in our community as part of the efforts to redevelop the former GE campus,” the email said.