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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, March 03, 2019 1:00 am

Editorial

Electric Works still seeking spark to attain its full power

When the public-funding plan for Electric Works finally clicked into place last summer, those who share the developers' bold vision for the former General Electric campus properly rejoiced. In place of the mixed signals it had been sending, the administration of Mayor Tom Henry put forward a viable plan for the public portion of first-phase costs and a gauntlet of councils and boards advanced it.

What seemed like the highest walls had been hurdled.

But there are only two things certain in this life, as Benjamin Franklin might put it, and one of them is not pending economic development.

Think Amazon and New York City, or the recent announcement that the city had ended its partnership with Continental Property Group to build a Riverfront-related residential/retail/parking complex at Harrison and Superior streets.

So it was encouraging to learn last week that the city is working to amend its economic development agreement with  RTM Ventures to give the Electric Works development consortium more time to secure federal tax credits that are a crucial part of the project's funding plan.

Under the present agreement, that $248 million plan, which involves money from private investors in addition to $65 million from local public agencies, is supposed to be finalized by June 30.

But that plan didn't anticipate the partial federal government shutdown. According to RTM partner Josh Parker, the 35-day shutdown set back the federal government's design-approval process for $34 million in historic tax credits and delayed allocations of New Markets tax credits to cities and organizations. RTM received $12 million in New Markets credits from Fort Wayne last year, but the delay means developers may not have enough time to secure $38 million more in credits from those other cities or organizations before the end of June. 

After a meeting Wednesday described by Parker as “collaborative,” the city agreed to work with RTM to set back the Electric Works closing to accommodate those delays. The developers believe a realistic date would be sometime in September, or the first of October.

Equally crucial is RTM's effort to have lease commitments for at least 250,000 square feet of Electric Works space before the closing. 

Seeking tenants for the multiuser center is like three-dimensional chess. The developers can't just poach existing jobs and businesses. They must fill space, quickly, but most of the signees must be new to the area or pursuing new ventures that create new jobs. 

Fulfilling Electric Works' promise to the community demands that the developers, and the community, do more than check off all the boxes. “Just leasing this up as an office building,” Parker said, “is not going to accomplish that.”

If the repurposed General Electric campus is to become the special place its advocates have envisioned, the developers also must bring in a diversity of tenants that will attract energy, creativity and new ideas to the work environment, and they must cultivate a mix of restaurants, retail and recreational outlets to make the complex a place rewarding to live and a fun place to visit. 

Several local leaders and institutions already have stepped up; one major announcement is said to be pending. It's time to hear from others who see the potential for Electric Works to become a center for innovation and a symbol of a growing, future-oriented community.