KERRY HUBARTT COLUMN: Electric Works can now begin its ‘transformational’ development in Fort Wayne

Kerry Hubartt

In April, a News-Sentinel.com editorial stated we were standing with the residents of the historic West Central Neighborhood, in urging Mayor Tom Henry and Fort Wayne’s City Council to make a concerted effort to support the Electric Works project on the former General Electric campus on Broadway.

Since then, countless newspaper reports have followed the progress of funding requests, meetings, demands, criticisms and support for the massive project. It all hinged on what developers said was $65 million of local public funding that would be necessary to make it all happen.

Tuesday, as News-Sentinel.com’s Kevin Leininger reported, that goal was reached when the Fort Wayne-Allen County Capital Improvement Board voted 7-0 to approve a bond of up to $45 million toward the $250 million project — the redevelopment of the vast campus and vacant buildings of the former GE factory established in 1911.

Over the years, GE gradually closed down the factories at the downtown complex, leaving the giant industrial buildings vacant. By 2014, the company had less than 100 employees in Fort Wayne, and fewer than 30 worked at the downtown campus. The company closed their remaining operations here at the beginning of 2015. Some of the buildings have been vacant for 30 years.

We applaud the tireless efforts of those who have worked to get the project off the ground. Now it is ready to go forward. And whether you supported it or not, it’s time for the community to embrace this massive redevelopment as “transformational” to Fort Wayne.

Former City Councilman and CIB member Ben Eisbart told Leininger the approval of $45 million was the most difficult decision in his 30 years of public life, because of the project’s size and scope. “But,” he said, “it is transformational.”

The project will transform the vacant 1.2 million square feet of land into a mixed-use “innovation district,” that will include high-rise apartments, restaurants, office spaces and more.

Josh Parker of developer RTM Ventures said in a statement, “Securing local investment in Electric Works is an important step and milestone for this project and the community … we are excited about building upon the incredible public momentum behind Electric Works, by beginning environmental clean-up and preparing for the start of construction in 2019.”

“A revitalized Electric Works campus will energize our economy, create jobs, and inspire many generations to use their creative talents to improve the lives of others,” Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., said earlier this year.

Doden was a driving force behind the project in his former role as CEO of GFW, Inc., an organization that promotes Northeast Indiana as a great place to start a new business or relocate a current business.

As we wrote back in April, that’s what Electric Works is all about. And we are excited about the redevelopment’s role in the transformation of an historic and iconic landmark in our community, and the part it plays in the ongoing transformation of downtown Fort Wayne.

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