Greater Fort Wayne Inc. has stepped in to provide funding for a more structured examination of options for General Electric’s vacant downtown campus.

Andy Downs, of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne, will conduct the study, which could begin almost immediately with some preliminary meetings with members of an ad hoc committee organized several months ago by City Councilman Geoff Paddock.

The “visioning” subcommittee will brainstorm some ideas, which will then be presented to stakeholders – residents, businesses, etc. – to help develop three alternative concepts.

Those concepts will be presented to the public early next year in a series of facilitated meetings that will explore how people feel about the redevelopment of the campus.

“It’s one thing to know what your constituents want; it’s another to know why they want it,” Downs said at a Nov. 12 meeting of the committee.

The options examined could address the repurposing of campus as a whole or building by building. The process would not necessarily produce a master plan, Downs said.

The mayor, city officials and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. informally met with GE representatives last week regarding the management and future of the site, GE spokesman Matt Conkrite said in an email to Business Weekly Nov. 16.

“We had a very productive dialogue over the safety and security of the site,” Conkrite said. “There are no specific plans or options under consideration, but we agreed that we need to continue discussions to explore redevelopment of the property for the benefit of the Fort Wayne community.

“As owners of the property, we are open to reviewing all redevelopment proposals from the community. Frankly, the most likely options would need to be economically viable with solid investment and development plans behind them. We feel the mayor and GFW Inc. also share this concern with us.”

The visioning process is not, at this point, about getting GE involved in the discussions, Downs told those attending the Nov. 12 meeting.

“This is about getting the unity to agree on a path,” he said. “After that, it’s selling it, and that’s obviously what you all have been concerned with.”

The vacant buildings have been deteriorating, and the landmark GE sign atop tallest building was turned off in June after vandals broke or removed most of its bulbs. GE has “no plans at this time” to relight the giant sign, Conkrite said.

Among the ideas discussed for some of the buildings are: a city museum similar to one St. Louis created in an old industrial building; artists lofts; small retail, including an indoor farmers market; indoor growing/greenhouse operations; a film studio; and an expansion by TekVenture.

In addition to manufacturing operations, some of the buildings contained labs. One was used as a clubhouse for employees and contains a basketball court and bowling alley.

The Broadway campus includes about 2 million square feet of space. With the addition of GE’s Taylor Street campus, recently vacated by tenant BAE, the total is about 3 million.

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