The cavernous, unheated fifth floor of Building 26 at the former General Electric campus reverberated with thunderous applause Thursday as Do it Best Corp. announced plans to relocate its corporate headquarters to the $250 million mixed-use development.
Adorned in winter coats, hats and gloves, the crowd included Do it Best CEO Dan Starr, Gov. Eric Holcomb, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and a litany of city residents, city employees and other state and local elected officials. Do it Best, which is celebrating 75 years in business this year, plans to lease nearly 200,000 square feet of space on multiple floors of Building 26 and create up to 90 jobs over several years. The company has the option to add an additional 20,000 square feet if necessary.
With Do it Best's commitment, RTM Ventures, the firm developing the site now known as Electric Works, has exceeded the leasing requirement laid out in the economic development agreement with the city of Fort Wayne. That agreement was signed in August 2018.
Do it Best's headquarters are located in New Haven near Maplecrest Road. The company has 440 employees, Starr said, and plans to expand that number by 20%. Do it Best is Indiana's largest privately owned company, officials said Thursday.
Addressing a crowd that could see its own breath, Starr described Thursday's announcement as the “worst-kept secret in state history.”
“As I stand here today in this space, I can see the vision of Electric Works and I see how Do it Best can continue its primary goal of helping our members grow and achieve their dreams,” Starr said.
In his remarks, Holcomb said Thursday was “a milestone, it is a transformational day, it is a historic day, it is a joyous day.” More than that, Holcomb said because of Electric Works, cities around the country are looking at Fort Wayne as an example.
“This is an equation-changer for our state,” Holcomb said.
Do it Best could have chosen to move to any other state or country, Holcomb said. But it chose to continue to grow in northeast Indiana.
“That speaks volumes about how you got to where you are today and the profound impact it will have on your future,” he said. “I'm just so thrilled with the Fort Wayne vibe, mayor. You have it going on.”
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. will grant up to $1.6 million in conditional tax credits and up to $200,000 in training grants, Holcomb's office said.
Henry noted that Electric Works is the largest public-private partnership in city history. Do it Best's choice to move to Electric Works not only speaks volumes about the company, Henry said, but also shows that Fort Wayne is an inviting community with potential.
“Public-private partnerships, successful ones, do not come easily, and I know all of you have witnessed the time and effort that the public sector and the private sector have been putting forward to make this a possibility,” Henry said. “Obviously, we're not finished yet. We still have a long road ahead of us but so far we have not given up.”
In anticipation of Thursday's announcement, RTM Ventures had asked for a fourth deadline extension to the economic development agreement.
Under that extension, which was approved this week by the city's Redevelopment Commission and the Allen County Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board, the firm has until April 30 to secure private financing for the project and until June 30 to close on the overall transaction, which includes $65 million in public funds.
About $10 million comes from the Fort Wayne Legacy Fund.
The Allen County commissioners, some of whom were present Thursday, are expected to vote on the extension today.
In an interview after the announcement, City Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, highlighted the impact Electric Works will have on the surrounding neighborhoods.
“It's very positive that this will be a strong rock in the center of the neighborhood that will be a very positive influence,” he said. “Not only will we see positive activity, but folks will want to live near here, they'll want to be able to walk to work.”
Paddock added that the city is already looking at infrastructure improvements for the nearby neighborhoods, particularly to the brick streets that surround the area. Other improvements such as street lights, curbs and sidewalks may also come as the development progresses.
“I don't think you'll recognize this area. In three to five years it will be completely changed for the better,” he said.
Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend agreed that Do it Best, along with Electric Works' other tenants, will be critical in revitalizing the surrounding area.
“That's why the public is involved in these kinds of partnerships, because it's not just of value to the companies here, but the neighborhoods and the people that live around here,” Townsend said.
In an interview with The Journal Gazette on Thursday evening, RTM Ventures' Jeff Kingsbury said Do it Best is critical to raise potential investors' confidence in the project. Do it Best will take about 200,000 square feet of the 700,000 available, he said, but “there's still a lot of opportunity for the other 18 tenants that we have,” which will include small businesses and startups, as well as midsized and growing businesses.
“That's what we want to create, is the continuum of opportunity for the global corporate headquarters on one end of the spectrum and the startup on the other,” Kingsbury said. “That's something that's fundamentally different about this place.”
at a glance
Companies that have publicly announced plans to lease space at Electric Works include:
• Do it Best Corp.
• Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation
• Fort Wayne Community Schools
• Joseph Decuis
• Fort Wayne Metals Research Products Corp.
• Indiana University Research and Technology Corp.
• Indiana Tech
• Medical Informatics Engineering
• Sweetwater Urban Farms (Not affiliated with Sweetwater Sound)
• Sport Wayne
• Spherion Staffing
• Fort Wayne Public Market
• Three Rivers Music