It’s anybody’s guess what the local GE campus will look like in five years.
Even its newly named developers don’t know.
But a lack of detail didn’t stop state and local officials from celebrating the announcement Monday that General Electric has chosen a Baltimore firm to develop its 31-acre local campus. The project is estimated at close to $300 million.
"It’s an awesome opportunity and a big responsibility to take on this project," said Joshua Parker, Cross Street Partners’ lead operating partner, said during the announcement.
Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., believes the redevelopment will have substantial impact.
"This is about education, about jobs, about entrepreneurship and about our future," said Doden, who was joined onstage by four Fairfield Elementary fifth-graders.
Cross Street Partners’ vision for the site includes creating places where people can work, play, learn and live. But, so far, no leases have been signed. A preliminary breakdown of how Cross Street expects to use the space, depending on market demand, is:
• 342,000 square feet of residential
• 277,000 square feet of educational
• 137,000 square feet of retail
• 131,000 square feet of office
• 54,000 square feet of amenities.
The firm is inviting the community to offer suggestions for the site – roughly the size of Glenbrook Square and its surrounding parking lots – where 10,000 GE employees once worked.
Even the tentative name, Fort Wayne Electric Works, could change if the public prefers something else, Parker said.
His priorities for the project are preserving at least some of the historical structures that date back to the 1800s, offering housing at various price points, and creating places that help retain and recruit talent.
"It comes back to listening to the community and seeing where the opportunities are," he said. "There’s much work to be done. We’re going to need your help."
Decatur firm Biggs Development, headed by Kevan Biggs, and Indianapolis firm Greenstreet Limited are partnering with Cross Street on the project. Jeff Kingsbury, Greenstreet’s managing principal, is a Fort Wayne native.
Last October, GE officials confirmed they’d narrowed the applications to one firm and were entering negotiations on the property that straddles Broadway, just south of downtown.
Although the GE campus is outside the boundaries of the Downtown Improvement District, some local officials consider it part of the city’s downtown as well as part of a neighborhood.
GE officials chose the developer and is negotiating directly with the firm. Matt Conkrite, GE spokesman, expects the final sales contract will be signed this summer. After that, decisions are in Cross Street’s hands.
Cross Street impressed GE officials because its proposal – one of four submitted – addressed the entire campus, was thoughtful and possible, Conkrite said. The Maryland firm also has a proven track record, he said.
GE’s portfolio includes numerous former industrial sites.
Officials prioritized making a deal on this one because of the state’s emphasis on economic incentives, including the $42 million northeast Indiana received last year as part of the Regional Cities Initiative.
That program "helped us have a more serious conversation about development (in Fort Wayne)," Conkrite said in a phone interview after the formal event.
Gov. Eric Holcomb also referred to the Regional Cities program in his remarks at the announcement in the former GE Club on the court where former workers played basketball.
"It’s such an important tool … as we continue to diversify our state’s economy and attract the best and brightest talent," he said. "Projects like this are going to go such a long, long way in not only creating jobs but improving the quality of place."
Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, said she has 30,000 reasons for participating in Monday’s announcement, referring to the enrollment in the local school system.
"We’re in the future business," Robinson said as she put her arm around one of the students standing onstage. "And we know if this city is not prospering, they have no reason to stay."
Greater Fort Wayne has been pushing for action at the GE site for three years, Doden said.
With a developer named, the local economic development group can help connect potential tenants with the GE campus developer and offer other support, he said.
"Really, our job just begins," he said, adding that the economic development group’s goal is to facilitate 200,000 square feet of leases. "Now is really the fun part."
Parker, the developer, is ready for the ride.
"Fort Wayne is on the move," he said, "and we’re so excited to be on the move with you."