Three Fort Wayne officials are asking Mayor Tom Henry and other city officials to not extend the economic development agreement for the $440 million Electric Works mixed-use innovation district. In a letter posted Friday, the authors suggested the $65 million in public funds committed to the project would be put to better use by assisting small businesses being affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The letter was written by Fort Wayne City Councilors Jason Arp and Paul Ensley, along with Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commissioner Nathan Hartman. It is addressed to Henry, along with the redevelopment commission, city council, the Capital Improvement Board of Allen County, and the Allen County Commissioners, each of which has contributed to the public funding for Electric Works.
The authors argue the developers of Electric Works, RTM Ventures, have already received four extensions to the economic development agreement and said, “The current attempt to revitalize the General Electric campus is not likely to happen.”
“If the developer was unable to secure financing at the peak of a very long bull market over the past few years, in a period of very low interest rates and lax lending standards, there is no reason to expect that that condition will change now that the economy is facing massive unemployment and dislocation,” the letter states.
The authors say there is precedent for using the city’s Legacy Fund, from which $10 million of the Electrics Funding is derived, for emergencies and using such funds to support struggling businesses would help prevent the need to dip into the city’s General Fund.
“Given the enormous uncertainties we face, it is best that we prepare the city for the potential for continued economic stress rather than to offer a 5th contract extension (for Electric Works).”
A spokesperson for Mayor Henry’s office said in an email late Friday to Inside INdiana Business, “We received a copy of the letter a short time ago and will begin the process of reviewing the content.”
On Wednesday, RTM Ventures said it does expect a delay in the finalization of the EDA and beginning of construction on Electric Works due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the developer said environmental remediation work at the site is ongoing and the district’s tenants remain committed to the project.
A spokesperson for RTM Ventures provided the following statement to Inside Indiana Business late Friday:
“In regards to the $65 million in local funds their letter references, we have always believed Electric Works is the best investment of those funds for the community – and we believe that is true now more than ever.
Northeast Indiana needs the immediate and significant economic impact Electric Works will bring to our region as one of the largest public-private partnerships in the state of Indiana. The $65 million referenced in the letter will unlock an additional $200 million in investment from outside Allen County as soon as construction begins. In addition, the construction process at Electric Works will help create and support approximately 2,000 jobs – meaning this project will play a pivotal and critical role in helping our economy recover and regain its momentum – at precisely the time it will be needed most.
Overall, Electric Works is expected to generate nearly $300 million in economic impact during construction – and almost $400 million in annual economic impact when the campus opens in 2022.”
You can view the full letter from Arp, Ensley and Hartman below: