KEVIN LEININGER: Public has done what was asked; now Electric Works’ developers must perform

Jeff Kingsbury, Kevan Biggs and Josh Parker of RTM Ventures explain their plans for Electric Works at a recent Allen County Council meeting. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of News-Sentinel.com)
Kevin Leininger

It seemed almost like an ending of sorts when the Capital Improvement Board approved a bond for Electric Works earlier this month. But by pledging the last of the requested $65 million in local public funds, it also signaled a new beginning for the planned redevelopment of the General Electric campus.

Now the developers must make good on their many assurances that the $250 million project will attract enough support from private investors and tenants to make it work.

“The pressure (on us) hasn’t changed,” said Jeff Kingsbury, a partner in the RTM Ventures development team. “The public support gives us a lot more credibility. That $65 million creates a lot of confidence in the private sector that the project is supported locally. I had concern politics might get in the way, but I was confident we had the support of the community and the state.”

But that confidence must now produce results, because RTM’s agreement with requires it to achieve certain things by specific dates — deadlines Kingsbury said will be met despite current numbers he insists are misleading.

The development agreement requires RTM to have signed leases for at least 250,000 square feet by next June, 150,000 square feet of which must be occupied by tenants that are not simply relocating within Allen County. As of now, however, not one square foot is actually leased, and letters of intent have been signed for just 68,000 square feet. That includes about 10,000 square feet for Medical Informatics Engineering, which was announced last week.

But Kingsbury said RTM is also working with tenants on an additional 70,000 square feet, which includes the previously announced interest by Indiana Tech, the Fort Wayne Community Schools and a public market. Parkview Health has also made a 10-year public commitment to the project, which Kingsbury said could boost that number to 181,000 square feet. And because they would represent expansions, not relocations, Kingsbury said finalization of those and other leases should allow RTM to comply with the development agreement’s terms.

If the list of prospective tenants announced to date seems most institutional — and it should — Kingsbury said that should change soon. Well aware of the need to create a public “buzz” about Electric Works, RTM hopes some commercial tenants could open as soon as next year prior to completion of the major work in 2020. “We expect to have more announcements from office and retail tenants in the coming weeks, he added,” acknowledging that discussions have taken place with Purdue Fort Wayne and that, as I have previously reported, Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack “has been a staunch supporter. But I can’t comment on specific tenants because of confidentiality agreements.”

Public confidence in the project’s viability would be enhanced by the announcement of signed, paying tenants, of course, but there is logic behind the lack of details. As Kingsbury said, tenants are understandably reluctant to sign a lease until they know for certain when the space will be available. And although environmental remediation work has already begin and construction is expected to begin next year, move-in dates remain elusive.

That’s true in part because some of the private funding sill must be secured, most notably $28 million in federal New Market tax credits that won’t be announced until March or so. “We’re actively shopping the project,” Kingsbury said. The $65 million in public pledges, and the fact that the economic “fundamentals of Fort Wayne are solid,” should give Electric Works a competitive advantage in the quest for the credits, he added.

So as you can see, there remains much to be done despite the completion of the project’s “public phase.” As of now, that $65 million has only been pledged; the money will not be available to RTM until and unless it meets its other funding and leasing obligations. Now that the public has done what it was asked to do, Kingsbury said RTM is better-equipped to make good on its promises.

“The local and state commitments of financial support have proven essential as we continue to take the story of Fort Wayne and Electric Works to prospective tenants and investor who aren’t familiar” with what the city has to offer, he said.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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