The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 11, 2020 1:00 am

Project's revival is a 'reversal of fortune'

Strengthened funding package solidifies project's support

Geoff Paddock and Tom Freistroffer

On Aug. 3, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission voted to terminate the Economic Development Agreement with RTM Ventures and thereby forfeit the public portion of funding for the Electric Works project.

Electric Works is a monumental project, with the backing of City and County Council members, the Allen County Board of Commissioners, the Capital Improvement Board, private investors, local banks and the state through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Local involvement started at least five years ago with neighborhood partners in the 5th District discussing the future of the property, then extended through to where we are today.

As City Council members, we had worked hard to put that funding together. We were shocked and disappointed at the sudden and swift move that was made, with many in the community also wondering what happened.

However, we also vowed to work with the Redevelopment Commission and others to forge ahead with another effort to build this world-class facility, which will create jobs and revitalize a large portion of our city. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work.

In the ensuing weeks, small work groups began to form, independently of one another. Small groups of people on all sides of the political spectrum – business leaders, elected officials, citizens and others – began to talk about what they could do to move Electric Works forward. Many ideas were shared, and we also participated with other council members and the RTM development team.

We realized this dream project would not take place without support from Mayor Tom Henry and his administration.

The mayor's confidence was boosted by the partnership with the Model Group. This development team is based in Cincinnati and led the successful $34 million redevelopment of the Landing in our downtown. In addition, Tim Ash, CEO of Ash Brokerage, a leader in the insurance services industry with its national headquarters located downtown, stepped forward.

The Model Group has agreed to become a co-developer of Electric Works, and Ash will become an investor. This added partnership helped convince our mayor to come back on board and announce that a new economic development agreement would be coming forward with his support.

RTM Ventures has done a magnificent job of crafting an outstanding imprint on more than 730,000 square feet of what was once a vibrant factory. Do it Best announced early this year it would make this campus its new world headquarters. Many other stellar names such as Parkview Health, IU Ventures, Medical Informatics Engineering, Fort Wayne Metals, Indiana Tech and Fort Wayne Community Schools will have a strong presence there, too.

Financing for the $280 million project is now complete with some $215 million committed from private capital and federal and state tax credits.

As two strong supporters of Electric Works, we are committed to work together in a bipartisan manner to keep the $65 million in public funding that will make this project a reality. This funding was committed previously. With the mayor and Redevelopment Commission now willing to accept this new arrangement, we pledge to support the reauthorization of the city and county funds  committed in 2018.

It appears all of the funding parties will need to reaffirm their funding. This should not be taken for granted. We live in far different world than we did in 2018. All parties need to evaluate the merits of this new arrangement to ensure closing can take place by the end of the year.

Frankly, this is a stronger package. RTM has hit every threshold that has been requested of it. Private funding is secure. Do it Best, as an anchor tenant, keeps more than 400 jobs in Allen County. A co-developer is in place. The city is engaged.

It is time to close on this project and move forward as a community.

We were all stunned and saddened by the events that temporarily derailed this project just over 60 days ago. However, working together, we have seen a reversal in fortune. Now, we can move forward together into a better tomorrow.

Geoff Paddock, left, is a Democrat representing the Fifth District and Republican Tom Freistroffer is an at-large member of the Fort Wayne City Council.

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