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The Journal Gazette

Friday, July 06, 2018 1:00 am


Time for a jolt

Is Electric Works momentum in danger of shorting out?

Between late May and early June, Electric Works was rapidly gaining wattage.

Mayor Tom Henry's administration released $12 million in New Markets Tax Credits for the project. A request for funding survived a first vote by the Legacy Joint Funding Committee. And a respected consultant tasked with evaluating the economic feasibility of the project said, in essence, “full speed ahead.”

Somewhere in that time frame, the mayor, who had suggested the city would offer $50 million toward making the $221 million first phase of the plan work, decided he was willing to go further.

More than three weeks ago, the city released its draft of an agreement with RTM Ventures, the Electric Works development consortium. As The Journal Gazette's Sherry Slater reported Sunday, some of the draft's provisions were more strict than those contained in similar public-private funding agreements. But if those provisions could be agreed to, the city offered to work with the county to find the full $62 million in local funding the developers say they need to turn a cluster of empty GE buildings on the west side of Broadway into a beehive of residences, restaurants, offices and entrepreneurial space.

The buzz of excitement one would have expected at this point, however, has been more like the chirp of crickets. Apparently, the city released its draft agreement with no alert to the City Council and little notice to RTM. City spokesman John Perlich has said negotiations with the developers “remain positive and are ongoing”; beyond that, neither side is commenting.

The silence, the toughly worded proposal and the snail-speed negotiations have led some to question whether the city is really serious about making Electric Works a reality.

The developers had once hoped to begin construction this summer, but no one seems to be panicking over the city's suggested Aug. 31 deadline. However, several government entities will need to sign off on portions of the as-yet-unknown funding package before the deal is done, and if the Legacy Joint Funding Committee's agonized deliberations in May are any guide, that may require some time.

As The Journal Gazette's Rosa Salter Rodriguez reported Tuesday, nothing Electric Works-related is on the City Council's agenda through mid-July. If the approval processes crawl into the fall, the need to get the project under way will become a major concern. For one thing, millions of dollars in tax credits could be at risk if Electric Works isn't finished by the end of 2020. For another, prospective tenants waiting for the situation to resolve may give up and take their business elsewhere.

One of those who has been willing to talk about the situation is City Councilman John Crawford. In an interview last week, Crawford, a strong supporter of Electric Works, said he expected the drive to put together a deal with the developers to commence after the Indiana Economic Development Corporation approved up to $50 million in tax credits for the project last December, and he remains puzzled as to why the city has moved so slowly.

“We lost four months before they seemed to be doing anything,” Crawford said. “There's been an odd amount of time lost if they are really in favor of this.” Of course, Crawford himself acknowledged that his comments could be taken with a grain of salt, since he is one of two announced Republican candidates seeking to challenge Henry in the 2019 mayoral election.

A poll released this week by Greater Fort Wayne Inc. suggests the project has broad public support. The deal between RTM and the city needs to be solid, of course. But it's time to pick up the pace toward resolution.