The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 26, 2021 1:00 am

'Building a small city' at former GE campus

Electric Works on target

Expected to open year from now

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Weigand Construction crews have only 12 months before Electric Works is expected to open to the public.

The timeline is even tighter – nine months – for finishing work on the building that will house Fort Wayne Community Schools' STEAM high school, which will offer classes in science, technology, engineering, art and math next fall.

The $286 million mixed-use redevelopment of the former General Electric campus's west side is a massive undertaking that the developers and contractor say is progressing on schedule.

About 250 skilled trades workers are on site each day, said Cody Michaud, senior project manager. His duties include staying on schedule, sticking to budget, maintaining building quality and ensuring workers' safety. Of course, there's also the issue of supplies.

“You're just constantly making sure ... the trades people have the parts and pieces they need when they need them,” Michaud said. “I've been living and breathing Electric Works.”

Preparation pays off

Despite the construction industry's worker shortage, Weigand was able to line up the subcontractors it would need early, Michaud said.

Kevan Biggs, a partner in developer RTM Ventures, said supply contracts were also signed early enough to insulate the project from the spring and summer's price hikes in raw materials.

The project's budget was also spared when underground utility work was completed without significant snags. That frees money marked for a contingency fund created to offset unforeseen costs.

As a result, Biggs said, Electric Works will include some items from the developers' wish list, including a rooftop deck on building 19, which will house 32,000-square-feet of co-working space managed by Carr Workplaces.

Officials announced in December that Carr's lease space will include more than 90 private offices, “drop-in” workspaces, meeting rooms and a 10,000-square-foot conference center.

The tenant attracting the most attention has been hardware cooperative Do it Best Corp., which is moving its corporate headquarters from 6502 Nelson Road near New Haven to Electric Works. That space should be ready for occupancy in October 2022.

Primary plumbing and electrical work is complete, and drywall is being hung in the building's top two floors.

Some spaces on campus won't be built out until tenants are identified. Electric Works is dedicating spaces for restaurants, retailers, entertainment venues, fitness centers and other uses.

“We are right on plan with our leasing,” Biggs said. “There is still space available, which is by design.”

He led a group tour last week for site selectors, who have advised the developers that companies typically commit to new locations 12 months before their desired opening date.

“It's what I call the kind of Goldilocks range – not too soon and not too late,” Biggs said.

More leasing announcements are coming soon, he teased.

The 'wow' factor

RTM Ventures resists talking about agreements before contracts are signed. Also, some leases require the developers to keep the deal quiet until the tenant makes its official announcement.

That means Biggs knows a lot more than he can talk about.

“There are a lot of exciting things happening around the project,” he said. “Even if we could tell everybody every element of every detail, I think there's still just the reality of it that people can't quite get their heads around.”

“When people walk through it after it's done, their minds will be blown,” Biggs added.

Both Biggs and Michaud think passersby will notice a big difference at the site in about three weeks, when crews start installing custom-made windows that are historically accurate yet energy efficient.

When Biggs – or partners Jeff Kingsbury and Josh Parker – asks which parts of the campus would be good to highlight during a tour, Michaud asks a question before answering. Will the group be visiting in the morning or afternoon?

“The tour route will change just that fast,” he said. “There's a lot of activity out here, a lot of momentum.”

“There's times when I, myself, walk out there (to the construction site) and think 'wow,'” Michaud added.

Biggs, who turns 50 this year, said the former General Electric campus has been in decline for as long as he remembers. Most local residents, he said, “have no perspective of what that was like when it was bustling with thousands of workers and standing proud.”

Biggs and Michaud are proud to play a part in returning the campus to its vital role in the community.

“It's just a humbling opportunity to be part of being able to restore (the historic brick buildings) to their original beauty,” Michaud said.

Biggs offered another perspective on the project's scope, saying, “It's kind of building a small city all at one time.”

By the numbers

A project the size of Electric Works generates some eye-popping statistics. Here are a few:

10,000 – Cubic yards of concrete poured on the job

286,000 – Square feet of new roofing

10,800 – Tons of material removed from the site through July

8,021 – Tons of removed material that was recycled rather than sent to a landfill

90 – Percentage of the skilled trades workers onsite who are local residents

Source: Weigand Construction

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