NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Commission right to extend deadlines for Electric Works

The Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission was right to extend deadlines for RTM Ventures in its efforts to develop the Electric Works site near downtown.

Earlier this week, the commission voted to amend RTM’s agreement with the city to extend the deadline for securing financing commitments from Dec. 31, 2018 to July 1 and to have final fund closing conditions met by Sept. 1, instead of June 30. The commission also added new provisions to the agreement, including establishing Nov. 30 as the deadline for the fund closing date and requiring that the developer provide monthly written updates to city staff.

Electric Works is an ambitious undertaking to redevelop the former General Electric campus on Swinney Avenue into a broad array of commercial, educational and residential uses. The project anticipates transforming the 39 acres and 18 existing buildings into “a world-class quality of place built on a foundation of innovation, energy and culture.”

The first phase of the project is $248 million. The city has committed $65 million toward phase 1, governed by the terms of the agreement the commission amended this week. Phase 1 features the redevelopment of 10 buildings on the western side of the campus into 616,000 square feet of space dedicated to office; research and education; retail and restaurants; apartments; innovation; and open space and recreation.

The original agreement called for RTM to have leases signed for 250,000 square feet of space at the site by June 30. None has been signed. But that’s understandable given the status of the project. Until work begins and availability and costs are determined, it’s hard to imagine companies committing to leases.

RTM’s Jeff Kingsbury told The News Sentinel recently that though he does not have signed leases, he does have letters of intent committing to 120,000 square feet of space at the site. He remains optimistic. “Am I encouraged? Yes. We’re creating an asset that didn’t exist,” he said.

Kingsbury said the developers are focusing on securing medical and education tenants before moving onto retail, including restaurants and bars. Organizations that have announced interest in operating at the site include the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., Spherion Staffing, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Sport Wayne Inc. and Fort Wayne Metals. The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne announced a $500,000 investment in January and other organizations, including Medical Informatics Engineering, Parkview Health, Indiana Tech and the Fort Wayne Community Schools have also expressed interest.

The Electric Works project is of such significant scale that it has the potential to transform Fort Wayne in a way few other development projects have. Is it possible that because of timing, demand, financing or other reasons that the project won’t come together as hoped? Absolutely.

But if the development does take off as hoped, the payoff on the public investment would be a win for taxpayers. For that reason, there is no harm in the Redevelopment Commission giving RTM more time to realize its vision for the Electric Works campus.