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KEVIN LEININGER: Electric Works lands an anchor tenant — if the city will give developers more time

The City's Redevelopment Commission has agreed to give developers of Electric Works more time. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)
Josh Parker
Kevin Leininger

Electric Works may have found the long-sought anchor tenant that will allow the massive project to move forward and claim $65 million in promised public funds. If the developers get more time to finalize the details, that is.

In a letter sent Friday to local officials, RTM Ventures said it has secured a letter of intent from a company wanting to locate its headquarters in 200,000 square feet of the former General Electric campus, which is slated for redevelopment into a $230 million “mixed-use” project containing shops, offices, restaurants and other features. The company does not currently operate in Fort Wayne, RTM partner Josh Parker told me, and was attracted with help from the state of Indiana — a possibility I first reported back in November. Parker’s letter does not name the tenant because of a confidentiality agreement, nor how many jobs it would create.

Completion of such a lease would be crucial, because RTM’s development with the city requires it to have 250,000 square feet leased leased, along with certain private financial commitments, by Feb. 1. The corporate headquarters brings the space covered by various letters of intent to 415,068 square feet, said Parker, who called the anchor tenant a “game changer.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb, state Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. have all been working to bring the tenant to Electric Works, Parker said.

But attraction of such a large tenant requires some changes to RTM’s plans — work that could not be completed by Feb. 1. So RTM, which has already received two extensions from the city, wants to push the deadline for leasing, funding and construction documents back to April 30, and to June 30 for closing. That would give RTM the time it needs to do such things as provide more office space by eliminating 60 planned residential units, Parker said.

For Mayor Tom Henry, who supported RTM’s request for extension of its previous Sept. 1 compliance deadline, the developers’ plea for still more time could pose an interesting decision. Despite his public support of Electric Works, many have accused Henry and other members of his administration of working to undermine the project behind closed doors. If Henry truly does want to scuttle Electric Works and make most of that $65 million in public money available for other projects — he’s placed a downtown arena back on the table, for example — it appears he could do so simply by refusing to extend the deadline.

Given Electric Works’ support among the public, such a move could be politically unpopular. But Henry, who won a fourth term in November, has already said he won’t seek a fifth.

Still, surely Henry would not gratuitously pull the plug on such a potentially beneficial project on the verge of its apparent success. His legacy to date is one of growth and development, and as mayor he would stand to get a lion’s share of the credit should Electric Works prove to be the generator of jobs, taxes, economic activity and excitement its backers insist it will be.

With the state actively working to bring more employment and investment to Fort Wayne — Indiana approved a $50 million tax credits for the project in 2017 — Henry should seize the opportunity to support what has the potential to be a truly transformational project. The impact of a 200,000 square-foot corporate headquarters just south of downtown could promote not only the vitality of Electric Works but also of the neighborhood and entire city.

What’s more, even the Henry administration has said the Capital Improvement Board can make good on its $45 million commitment to Electric Works (which is included in the $65 million) and still have the ability to grant the nearly $38 million the administration is seeking for four major downtown projects, including the Ruoff Home Mortgage headquarters.

That’s not to say the CIB should rubber-stamp the city’s $38 million request, but it does mean any additional Electric Works extension can be considered on its own merits, distinct from any potential impact on other announced projects.

Would another extension mean the project is home free? Probably not. But the lack of an anchor tenant has long been cited by Henry and others as a major stumbling block. With that block seemingly removed, perhaps Parker was being more than a good salesman when he said that, after many stops and starts and more than a little acrimony, “We are excited to be in the home stretch.”

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.