Fort Wayne City Council approves $13.5 million for Electric Works

Electric Works supporters persuaded City Council to help the project before; now council is being asked to do it again. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger

In two separate 6-3 votes, City Council Tuesday approved a total of $13.5 million for the Electric Works project — a make-or-break step in developers’ quest for $65 million in local public funding for the $250 million redevelopment of the former General Electric campus. The votes were preliminary, with final approval expected next week.

The action will provide RTM Ventures with a $10 million grant from the city’s Legacy fund, created through the sale of the old municipal electric utility, and another $3.5 million in local income taxes. RTM will also seek $3.5 million in income taxes from the Allen County Commissioners and $45 million from the Capital Improvement Board, which oversees the county food and beverage tax. The project previously received a total of $3 million for environmental clean up from the county and CIB.

“The vision (for the project) is easy to see and the potential huge. It’s very similar to the baseball stadium,” said John Crawford, R-at large, referring to council’s support a decade ago for the Harrison Square project that included Parkview Field. Economic growth downtown followed, and Crawford and other council members expressed confidence Electric Works will generate the same impact, benefiting nearby neighborhoods in need of jobs and services.

Voting in support of both bills were Crawford, Tom Didier, R-3rd, Geoff Paddock, D-5th, Glynn Hines, D-6th, and Michael Barranda and President Tom Freistroffer, both at large. Voting no were Paul Ensley, R-1st, Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Jason Arp, R-4th.

Arp, who regularly opposes city-subsidized economic development projects, likened the project to money laundering and racketeering and called the votes “one of the largest heists of public money in the history of the city, with more to come in phase two (of the project). “The developers have very little invested. The media let the public down.”

Jehl, who previously supported a combination of Legacy loans and grants for the project, said earlier this week he could not vote for giving all the money as a grant. An amendment offered by Barranda requires the Legacy money to fund public spaces in the project, including the public market.

RTM partner Kevan Biggs said he was pleased and relieved by the outcome — especially since six of nine council members must approve use of Legacy funds. “When you walk into a council meeting, anything can happen,” he said, adding the “remarkable show of public support” might have influenced the outcome.

“This community is close to the tipping point” of great things happening, predicted RTM’s Josh Parker. “Others are watching.”

If council had denied funding, Didier noted, others in government and business would have taken note of that, too, potentially making the city less attractive for investment.

Hines said he was especially pleased that the developers have pledged to reach out to underserved communities, while Freistroffer predicted the project, which could see construction begin next year, will draw more investment to the area south of downtown and revitalize neighborhoods in need of a boost.

“I’m looking forward to the new Broadway corridor,” he said.

“This was just too good an opportunity to pass up,” said Paddock, a longtime supporter of the project who cast the crucial sixth vote.

Mayor Tom Henry issued a statement following the votes, saying “We continue to make progress on an important and unique initiative for Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana . . . Successful public-private partnerships are critical to enhancing our ability to be a point of destination for jobs and excellent quality of life amenities.”

Developers have said none of the public money can be spent until private funds are in place and sufficient lease commitments are in place.

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