The funding plan for the Electric Works project is a jigsaw puzzle of private investment and federal, state and local public money. There are lots more pieces of that puzzle for developers to assemble before the reimagining of the old General Electric campus begins to become a reality. But if things go as they should in the weeks ahead, public dollars could finally be secured for the $220 million-$240 million first phase of the project.
Tuesday, City Council will discuss and take a preliminary vote on whether to commit $10 million from the Legacy Fund and $3.5 million in local economic development income tax funds to the project, and whether to release all the cash up front or over the next seven years. Paying it all now, Councilman John Crawford explained Wednesday, would reduce the cost of the bond the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board would have to float for the balance of the local investment. Doling funds out over the next few years “would be a much more expensive way to do it,” Crawford said.
The county has already approved $1 million and the Capital Improvement Board $2 million toward the project. The board, which meets next in November, would still need to approve a bond for the balance of the $65 million public commitment.
RTM Ventures, the development consortium, would have other goals to meet – including rounding up more private investment and securing a bank loan for construction, according to spokesman Kevin Erb. RTM's agreement with Mayor Tom Henry's administration requires that the developers have commitments for 100,000 square feet of leased space by Dec. 31 – a quarter of which must be from expansions or businesses new to the area. Early in 2019, developers would have to seek out more New Markets Tax Credits from other localities to supplement the $12 million in credits the city awarded RTM earlier this year. By the end of next June, Erb noted, the developers must have leasing commitments for 250,000 square feet from expansions or new-to-the-area businesses. Those goals have to be met before the public money kicks in.
But if things go as planned, Erb said, the first phase of Electric Works would be completed in 2021, though elements of the project could be opened next year.
Lots more pieces, to be sure. But it now appears that the developers will have the opportunity to show whether the plan to turn an empty industrial campus into a lively complex of offices, stores, residences, and innovation and education space can succeed.
After a long summer of slow negotiations, Henry and RTM hammered out a working agreement in August. “We've always understood that ... they were taking their time and being cautious,” Erb said. “Now they're showing leadership and ownership of the project.”
As we've noted before, Electric Works has the potential to attract new jobs and workers to the region, improve Fort Wayne's quality of life and revitalize surrounding neighborhoods. We should all be proud that our community is on the verge of making it happen.