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Asked to look at whether the Fort Wayne market can support a residential, office and retail complex as ambitious as Electric Works, the Washington, D.C.-based RCLCO consulting firm has unveiled its much-anticipated report, and it could be a game-changer.
Adam Ducker, a managing director of the firm, buttressed his conclusions about the GE-campus project with a detailed overview of local economic activity and development. But Ducker's words, and the 43 pages of charts, maps and graphs that accompanied them, could be boiled down to a simple phrase:
If you build it, they will come.
The demand is there, he said – for apartments, for office space and for retail. Citing long-term trends in job growth, demand for office and apartment space and downtown-area shopping habits, Ducker maintained that the area could easily provide the workers, residents and customers to make Electric Works succeed.
“The economic outlook in Fort Wayne is actually better than you give yourselves credit for,” Ducker said.
“This is a project that I believe is responding to an expanding community,” he said. “The question is, why hasn't the market stepped up sooner?”
RCLCO was hired and paid by RTM, the development consortium behind Electric Works. But the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board signaled it was comfortable with the Washington, D.C.-based firm being asked to gauge the feasibility of the project.
“They needed an objective party to do this,” said Community Improvement Board Chairman Jim Cook, who comparedRCLCO's assessment to the kind of research a bank does before giving a developer a loan.
The 50-year-old firm has a good reputation, Cook said in an interview Thursday. “There are only a couple of firms that do this kind of work.”
Electric Works is not yet a done deal. Cook said the CIB is refining earlier research by Novogradac & Co. to make sure it has the most accurate possible estimates on the economic return the project could bring the community.
Within days, Mayor Tom Henry is expected to unveil a development proposal he has worked on with other city and county officials. The Legacy Joint Funding Committee still must decide whether to approve a loan or grant that would be part of the local funding formula. And decision-makers are watching closely to see what tenants are willing to step forward.
But the RCLCO findings have given Electric Works a major boost.
“It's an exciting project,” Cook said. “We have to make sure we do our diligence. But this is an encouraging report and I think it validates a lot of the assumptions of the developer.”