At its Dec. 10 meeting, Fort Wayne City Council voted to untable a resolution held since June 4 that would give Science Central $500,000 from the city's legacy fund for a planetarium project. The resolution will be discussed at the Dec. 17 meeting.
Science Central Executive Director Martin Fisher is working to raise $2.5 million for installation and a few years of operation of the planetarium. However, he's been waiting since spring to find out if the museum will get the Legacy money.
The item was first on the council agenda during the April 16 meeting where council member Paul Ensley, R-1st, insisted that the Legacy Fund missed the “threshold” remaining balance of $30 million, which was cause for concern and warranted a delay of this decision, at least until there was an update on Electric Works, which has $10 million in Legacy Fund money. The developers for Electric Works, a project to revitalize the former General Electric complex on Broadway, earlier this year repeatedly sought extensions to deadlines for signing on tenants.
Despite most of the council members’ insistence that they support and even “love” Science Central and this project, the majority sided with Ensley on April 16 and tabled the discussion.
Over a month later, during council’s committee session June 4, Science Central found itself back on the agenda. Ensley, who had been instrumental in delaying the vote previously, was absent from the evening’s proceedings, and the rest of council agreed that the vote should be done only when Ensley is present.
The planetarium will go in an empty portion of the children's science museum at 1950 N. Clinton St., and will feature a star ball, which comes from the University of Saint Francis’ former planetarium, and a new digital system.
"I'm a big supporter," said Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th District, on Dec. 9.
The resolution would need six votes from the nine-member council to pass.
"I will definitely vote to untable, because I thought it was fair to give them an up or down vote," Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd District, said, "when it first came up earlier in the year, especially knowing we were going to take time to study the policy. I'm not certain whether I'll support it. I look forward to getting all the information."
Jehl said his hesitation is that his constituents don't want to keep seeing the corpus continue to be spent down and has nothing to do with the planetarium project itself.
Hines, however, said he's not concerned specifically with the corpus.
"I think the investing vehicle is showing the return is real aggressive," he said. "We're trending in the right direction. To me (the Electric Works project) is really questionable in terms of whether or not it will even happen, and I think Science Central, with the planetarium, is such a positive attraction that what it does for the community outweighs the differential of a half a million dollars, whether $30 million or $29.5 million in the corpus. So I think, that, in fact, is a big enough incentive that we need to move forward."
The City of Fort Wayne Community Legacy Fund originated from the settlement between the city and Indiana Michigan Power over the dispute of the 1974 expiration of the City Light Lease agreement in which I&M leased certain electric utility property from the city. The result of finalized negotiations in late 2010 gave the city the ability to invest not only the $39 million gained from the settlement, but also the nearly $36 million in the City Light Trust Fund.
In 2011, a committee determined how the millions of dollars should be spent:
• 21st Century Talent (education, training, workforce development)
• Economic Development (retaining, growing, and attracting business)
• Entrepreneurship (new/start-up businesses, venture capital)
• Infrastructure (services and facilities that support economic development)
• Quality of Life (arts and cultural resources, community amenities, aesthetics)
In addition to Electric Works, millions of dollars from the fund have been used for projects including the city's downtown riverfront development.
Electric Works is a $250 million public-private partnership project to redevelop the west side of the former General Electric complex at 1030 Swinney Ave. off Broadway and 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.