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Thursday, October 31, 2019 1:00 am

Attack on book lacks foundation

Chris Mead

Chris Mead is a former senior vice president with the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and author of “Turning Rust to Gold: Fort Wayne's Fight for Revival.”

The commentary by Don Steininger and Barry Sturges in The Journal Gazette, “Electric Works book best read as fiction (Oct. 23),” addresses nothing specific in my book, “Turning Rust to Gold: Fort Wayne's Fight for Revival.”

Which fact in the book is wrong? In their piece that decries “fiction,” can't they find a single, specific instance of it? For example, do they dispute:

• That the agreement between the city and RTM has been described, by experts in these same Journal Gazette pages, as “punitive” and evidence that the city doesn't like the developers?

• That Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer criticized the project to many people in Fort Wayne, so much so that Chuck Surack, a friend and supporter of the mayor, admitted publicly that the mayor and Bandemer didn't like the project?

• That the city inserted itself into the process of evaluating leases, an unusual and heavy-handed move that just added to delays?

• That the city took 10 months to approve the project for funding, and capped the process off with the draconian agreement with RTM when the state and federal governments moved forward more than three times as fast with no equivalent helping of red tape?

• That when the city blames the developers for delays, given its own kitchen-sink approach to creating obstacles to the developers, isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?

• That the mayor had such a dislike of the Electric Works effort that he angrily shouted at the developer and threatened him in a public place?

• That a commitment of city funding means nothing if it's contingent on consummating a deal that, behind the scenes, the city's top leadership has consistently attempted to subvert?

With Electric Works, City Hall has been a supporter in public and a sea of civic molasses in private. I'm far from the only person to mention it.

Many of the 45 people I interviewed had disturbing stories. Renters of space and potential renters have seen the problem up close. One person very involved in the process reported he had “file cabinets of evidence” that the city did not support the project. Another showed me a lease agreement that he pointed out was far more bureaucratic and hard to work with than what he experienced in another city in which he was also planning to take space.

The book is full of evidence of obstruction. Why didn't Steininger and Sturges question specific items? Arguing without facts is like modeling without clothes. Only kings can get away with it, and usually not for long.

These two developers, no doubt justifiably proud of their records in building, stumble when it comes to substance in writing. They have tried to build a critical skyscraper without a foundation. Gentlemen, pour some concrete next time.