Ex-GE site lands farmers market

February 13th, 2018

By Matthew LeBlanc | The Journal Gazette

Two downtown farmers markets will combine this fall under a new management group to eventually operate a year-round market, officials announced Monday.

The nonprofit Fort Wayne Public Market will be at Electric Works, the redevelopment of the former General Electric campus south of downtown. Its leaders have signed a letter of intent to lease space at the 39-acre site.

Plans call for the nonprofit to take over management of YLNI Farmers Market and Fort Wayne's Farmers Market in September. They will continue to operate separately until then.

“The overwhelming success of the current Saturday markets has shown that Fort Wayne is ready for something bigger,” Public Market board President Jered Blanchard said in a statement. “By moving into a permanent location at Electric Works, we hope to crate an exciting and unique destination for regional residents.

“With this move the engaging, friendly culture of the farmers market can be experienced all week long, in any weather.”

Specifics are few as Blanchard and others at a news conference Monday on the GE campus said details such as the size of the space needed at the site must be discussed. Mayor Tom Henry said he expected the market to be “a significant” part of Electric Works.

Cost of the lease has not been decided.

The market is the third entity in recent weeks to express interest in Electric Works. Indiana Tech announced plans in December to lease a portion of the site, which includes plans for retail, residential and educational space. Fort Wayne Community Schools is considering classroom space there.

Officials from RTM Ventures, which will develop the site, have said a farmers market likely would be there.

Jeff Kingsbury of the development group said Monday the market will provide access to healthy food and a place for “civic and social engagement.”

A 2011 feasibility study said the city can support a year-round farmers market, board member Stephanie Veit said. She said the two markets will be able to grow as one in the new space.

Board members have been meeting since May to discuss the move.

“Partnering with committed community organizations like Fort Wayne Public Market, Electric Works can help address community health as a key to Fort Wayne's continued revitalization, and this is an important step toward that vision,” Kingsbury said.

It will be awhile before a move is made.

RTM Ventures paid GE $5.5 million in September for the property, and work is underway to secure funding for the redevelopment, which is estimated at $213 million.

A tax credit of up to $50 million was approved in December by the Indiana Economic Development Corp., and state lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow the city to create a 50-year tax increment financing district around the campus to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The site includes 18 buildings and more than 1.2 million square feet of space. Work on a portion of the campus is slated to begin next year.

The new market will be centrally located to provide access to food downtown, officials said.

There are a handful of farmers markets in the city, and some organizers whose operations will not be part of the Electric Works project applauded the announcement Monday.

Maureen Partee started the Georgetown Square Farmers Market seven years ago. She said her group serves a specific population in the city and was not asked to be a part of the downtown market.

“I hope they do well,” she said. “We're serving northeast Fort Wayne. We want people to come out to Georgetown.”

The same is true for Chris Shatto, who runs the Historic West Main Street Farmers Market.

“We weren't necessarily looking to have the same reach as the other markets,” he said.

The Public Market will operate at Barr and Wayne streets until construction is complete.