The Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission approved an extension Oct. 7 to the economic development agreement for the Electric Works project.
The commission granted a formal request submitted not long ago for more time to finalize private financing and secure tenants, proposing Feb. 1 as a new financing commitments milestone and April 30 for the closing date.
About $65 million in public funding for the project will be released when closing on the development agreement occurs after its conditions have been met.
Jason Arp, a commission member who also represents Fort Wayne City Council’s 4th district, cast the only opposing vote. He asked what had changed since the project’s developers had received a previous economic development extension.
Christopher Guerin, commission president, said he and Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry were 100% in favor of the proposed extension.
“I think people need to understand that this is an incredibly complicated deal with a lot of different moving parts and a lot of different funding sources,” Guerin said. “And, it isn’t a surprise to any of us that it needed one, or now even two extensions, because that’s the way the world works.”
Unforeseen delays caused developers to miss a Sept. 1 deadline to secure signed leases for at least 250,000 square feet at Electric Works to qualify for the funding, but on Sept. 25 they were able to report pre-leasing commitments for that amount.
The commitments they lined up on that amount of space included a master lease of the Electric Works Innovation Center and food hall/public market, Jeff Kingsbury, managing principal of Greenstreet Ltd., said at that time in a statement.
“We are continuing to identify subtenants for these important, unique, quality-of-place features of Electric Works,” he said.
The Indianapolis firm he is with, along with Decatur-based Biggs Development and Baltimore-based Cross Street Partners, make up RTM Ventures, which is developing Electric Works.
On Oct. 7, Electric Works announced that Muncie-based agriculture technology firm Balance Holdings, Inc. plans to locate one of its patented Environmentally Controlled Sustainable Integrated Agriculture systems there. The ECSIA system combines commercial regenerative agriculture with raising fish and crayfish in tanks to grow the most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables available for their “prescribed” food prescription plan, consumer and commercial sales on-site at Electric Works and throughout the region.
ECSIA’s zero-waste, closed-loop system uses 1% of the water needed for traditional agriculture and less than 20% used in hydroponics, according to the announcement. The system mineralizes waste from the fish to make nutrient-rich water, which then flows into troughs to feed growing fruits and vegetables. The plants also filter the water, which is cycled back to the fish tanks.
Company founder Glynn Barber said in the announcement, “We believe healthier food produces healthier people, which produce healthier communities.”
The commitments can’t be converted to leases until developers can provide tenants with the project’s construction start date and the date they will receive their space at Electric Works, said Kevan Biggs, the RTM development partner who heads Biggs Development.
Extending the economic development agreement will provide time for developers to complete negotiations with Interior Department officials, he said.
A partial shutdown of the federal government that lasted more than a month delayed the developer’s access to staff at the National Parks Service to help it acquire $45 million in tax credits that it counted on for the project.
“And as you can imagine when converting big, old manufacturing buildings into a different use, there are some modifications that we would like to see,” he said. “We are trying to push that envelope as much as we can, and for the benefit of the project.
“The Park Service has a very keen eye on trying to preserve the historic integrity of those buildings,” Biggs said. “They say, ‘well, you can’t make those changes because that will disturb the integrity of the original structure of the buildings.’”
A negotiation process was required to determine what changes would be needed in Electric Works plans for tax credit approvals. However, negotiations could not start during the first half of the year because the government shutdown had created such a tax credit request processing backlog for Parks Service officials.
“We had a team go out finally in July so that we could restart those negotiations with them, and there’s been a couple of volleys now, and we’re getting that information to where we all can be in agreement as to what those changes would be,” Biggs said.
“We believe we’re really on the final stages of that, but, unfortunately, it’s been kind of hard to imagine the implications of the shutdown were for longer than any of us anticipated.”
The $250 million public-private partnership project will redevelop the west side of the former General Electric complex at 1030 Swinney Ave. off Broadway to create more than 1.2 million square feet of space for office, educational, innovation, retail, residential and entertainment uses.
Plans call for apartments and retail space that will include a public market/food hall with food growing at the site and 90,000 square feet of innovation space.
Eventually, redeveloping both sides of the Broadway complex will cost $440 million.
John Urbahns, president and CEO for Greater Fort Wayne Inc., and John Sampson, president and CEO for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, contributed to a statement by the mayor supporting the extension request, saying the project showed great promise.