For those of us who are native to Fort Wayne, one can go back 100+ years to 1911 to observe the history of the old GE plant.
At its peak, the plant employed more than 20,000 workers. Over the years, GE gradually closed down the factories, leaving a barren desert of vacant buildings.
Fast forward the clock to more than 100 years since its inception, and we have the seeds of a giant development in the making.
On Oct. 16, City Council took up the discussion for the city component of the public funding for the rehabilitation of the GE site – the Electric Works project. The public funding for this project is complex and has taken almost a year of heavy negotiations to complete. There have been countless hours put into making this project a reality, in large part spearheaded by Director of Redevelopment Nancy Townsend, who has shown excellent leadership throughout this project.
The result of the City Council discussion was passage of the $10 million from the Legacy Fund and $3.5 million in city CEDIT dollars. This money is matched by county CEDIT dollars and a large investment by the Capital Improvement Board, as well as state and federal credits. Passage of the funding package for Electric Works has required every government entity to be on the same page, strongly behind this project, which I believe will be truly transformational for the region.
A lot has been said about the size of the public funding package required to make Electric Works a reality, and it's true that $65 million is a large investment. However, in looking at the total investment the city is making, it is $13.5 million in direct spending with $4.5 million from Allen County. The majority of the public funding is being provided by the Capital Improvement Board, ensuring that the city can continue investing in public safety, infrastructure and neighborhoods. For a $13.5 million investment, we can leverage this for a $200 million project that I believe will be transformational for the neighborhood, the community and the region – exactly the types of projects that Legacy dollars are supposed to be used for.
I applaud the county commissioners for being active participants in this process, as well as Mayor Tom Henry and the Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. leadership and staff. I thank the citizens and the neighbors who have spoken both for and against this project – your passion has not gone unnoticed. I appreciate the strong guidance of 5th District Councilman Geoff Paddock, who facilitated the conversation several years ago that helped get us all to this point. The public funding for this project does not close until next year, and there are benchmarks to be hit by RTM Ventures over these months including announcement of tenants as we're able to watch the full scope of the project take shape.
Electric Works is an investment in ourselves, and it's an investment in who I believe we will become. It will revitalize a neighborhood, remediate land in need of help, rehabilitate aging buildings and restore a sense of community in Fort Wayne as all parties have a role in this project. This is a scope of investment that Fort Wayne hasn't seen in many years, if ever. We've worked hard to put ourselves in this spot – and I hope the best is yet to come.
Tom Freistroffer is an at-large member of Fort Wayne City Council.