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KEVIN LEININGER: Surack backs Electric Works; swingers club ‘indecent,’ suit against FWCS ends

Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack has made a substantial investment in Electric Works -- but developers will need a lot more like him to meet their legal requirements. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)
Chuck Surack
The site of the Champagne Club is not properly zoned for a swingers club, city officials say. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)-- bringsor
Bob Rinearson

This week’s announcement that Sweetwater Urban Farms plans to open a greenhouse in the food hall at Electric Works may have led some to believe that Sweetwater Sound Chuck Surack had agreed to lend his Midas touch to the project. Surack’s 2017 infusion of $1.5 million helped turn the abandoned Clyde Theatre into a hip entertainment venue, after all. Why shouldn’t he want to do the same for the former General Electric campus?

Such an assumption, though logical, would have been wrong — and right.

Although Surack also owns automotive and aviation businesses with a “sweet” prefix, he has nothing to to with Sweetwater Urban Farms. Surack has, however, made what he calls a “substantial commitment to Electric works, but I would rather not say how much.”

Sources have indicated, however, that the amount exceeds the investment Surack and wife Lisa made in the Clyde.

Despite that good news, the $230 million project remains short of the fund and leasing benchmarks developers were to have met by Sept. 1 under terms of their agreement with the city. I’ve been told RTM Ventures has asked to extend that deadline to Feb. 1, but as of now nothing has been finalized even though, according to city spokesman John Perlich, the request “is being considered/reviewed by the local public funding partners and City Redevelopment.”

Although Perlich also said those partners “want the project to happen and succeed,” the current lack of a formal extension agreement means the project is in a sort of legal and financial limbo despite $65 million in local public funding, most of it pledged by the city and Capital Improvement Board. Uncertainty is not a good thing when you’re trying to attract tenants and secure financing.

The looming mayoral election only adds to the uncertainty. Although Mayor Tom Henry has expressed public support, some — including the developers themselves — have expressed doubts about his sincerity. With RTM in at least technical violation of its agreement with the city, some officials have told me they will hold the developers to a high standard before agreeing to another extension.

In the meantime, there seems to be nothing to prevent local officials from withdrawing their $65 million commitment should they choose to do so. I’m not suggesting that will happen, and I hope it doesn’t. But the mere possibility can’t be good for a project that has the support of one Chuck Surack, but could use several more.

City: Club an ‘indecent nuisance’

As I reported this week, city officials have notified Fort Wayne’s only swingers club that its operations violate zoning laws. A letter from Plan Commission Attorney Robert Ehrenman to Thomas Lindenberg, an officer of the Champagne Club at 2710 Nuttman Ave., sheds additional light on the city’s case.

Ehrenman contends that the club is a “common nuisance” under local law but is also an illegal “indecent nuisance” under the Indiana Indecent Nuisance Act. The letter gave the club until Sept. 10 to cease operations or risk “injunctive relief”, but Perlich said the two sides “have been discussing this matter and exchanging additional information.”

Free-speech case closed

It’s been almost a year since Robert Rinearson filed a federal lawsuit against the Fort Wayne Community Schools, which had fired him in May 2018 for allegedly getting too physical with an unruly elementary school student. A FWCS employee since 1996 and supervisor of safety and student management for 17 years, Rinearson claimed his termination just days after penning a News-Sentinel column critical of the Black Lives Matter movement was a case of racial discrimination and a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

In June, however, U.S. District Judge Holly Brady granted the schools’ motion for summary judgement, ending the case by essentially ruling that Rinearson had failed to present enough evidence to justify going to trial.

Although Brady acknowledged that “the political tone of Rinearson’s writings (he had written many other columns for The News-Sentinel) is important because his politics are at odds with his superiors . . . none of Rinearson’s proferred arguments can change the inescapable conclusion that he was fire for verbally assaulting and physically contacting a child rather than writing another conservative newspaper column.”

I can’t argue with that conclusion, even though Rinearson presented some credible but circumstantial evidence. But I can say this for sure, regardless of the facts of this case: Those who talk most about the value of diversity — and that happens nowhere more often than in academia — are also often the least tolerant of diverse viewpoints.

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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