GE campus arena idea floated

April 5th, 2018

By Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Electric Works developers have dangled the prospect of providing a site for a downtown arena in a letter to Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, pushing for more local public money for the project if it is to go forward.

In the letter dated Monday, project developer Josh Parker, partner in RTM Ventures, Baltimore, said the first phase of the project to revitalize the former General Electric campus south of downtown “will not happen” without more than the $50 million in local public money the mayor proposed in a letter to developers on March 22.

The Journal Gazette obtained both letters Wednesday.

Developers are seeking $65 million in local money for the first phase of the project on the west side of the campus along Broadway.

That phase is projected to cost $220 million in documents made public Tuesday.

“We have heard specifically that there is concern investing in Electric Works will eliminate the chances of building a downtown arena,” the developer's letter states, adding: “Knowing that the Arena is a particular area of concern we have asked our architects to evaluate sites on the campus where an arena could be accommodated and where we could bring other federal, state, and private funding to its development.

“We have found some potential areas of fit and should the City Administration decide to pursue the Arena again we would be happy to further this analysis.”

Henry nixed continuing to pursue a $105 million arena proposed by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board in November after a consultant reported it would likely not be financially  sustainable.  

Electric Works site plans submitted Tuesday for upcoming consideration by the Fort Wayne Plan Commission do not show any feature labeled as arena space. However, the plans do show a large open area north of the railroad tracks bordering the north side of west campus designated as “future parking.” The space is bordered by College Street on the west, Rockhill Street on the east and Jones Street on the north.

And, on the far east side of the east campus, two new buildings are proposed, as are three parking garages – one near the two new buildings, one along Broadway north of McCulloch Park and another attached to a future building east of McCulloch. 

All proposed buildings on the east side of Broadway are described as yet to be determined and to be “coordinated with the city of Fort Wayne.” 

The eight-page letter also says Henry has suggested replacing buildings on the east campus “with a fieldhouse and public park” and adds the developer is willing to consider that idea and others from the city if they do not jeopardize federal and state dollars or take land off the tax rolls.

Federal and state support for the project includes historic preservation tax credits, which preclude tearing down historic buildings.

In an email Wednesday, Stephanie Crandall, Fort Wayne's director of intergovernmental affairs, said the administration was still reviewing the letter.

“Mayor Henry and his administration continue to support the Electric Works project and want to see it succeed. City staff is working closely with project partners to help make this a reality. All partners recognize a lot of work is ahead, particularly on financials and getting signed leases by future tenants. We continue to be optimistic and are looking forward to what the future holds for the project.” 

In the March 22 letter, Henry said he would take steps to further Electric Works but needed to act with financial caution, given the size and scope of the project and the unprecedented “public investment of this magnitude in what is primarily a private project.”

Henry wrote that the administration would continue efforts to establish the Electric Works property as an Urban Renewal District and a Tax Increment Financing District.

He added he would alert Fort Wayne New Markets Revitalization Fund officials to be prepared to receive an upcoming funds request. City officials also would expedite a development agreement with timelines and details of commitments and obligations, the mayor wrote. 

But the letter emphasizes that Henry supports only the $50 million figure from the city and the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board. The amount would match the commitment of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Henry wrote.

However, the developer responded that was not enough.   

“I have tried to make clear what is required to make the project work, and the present value of $50 million you have recommended for the City is less that the $65 million needed,” Parker's letter states.

“Your support to date has been personally meaningful and very helpful to the project. I need to ask your support again to rally the necessary partners in local government to the table to secure the additional $15 million so that the project can proceed.

“Simply put: Without securing the full public-private partnership outlined above, the other $150 million being invested in Fort Wayne will not happen.”

At a glance

Other points made in recent correspondence between RTM Ventures' partner, Josh Parker, and Mayor Tom Henry regarding the Electric Works project:

  • Developers have been assured by legal and tax advisers that the July deadline to close and start construction may have wiggle room. Developers say they need only to start “environmental remediation.” But they are still aiming for July 1 for some project financing.
  • Developers have received “committed lease proposals” for 63,573 square feet, lease proposals “under legal review” for 17,200 square feet and are in “concept development” talks for 25,486 square feet – not including proposals from Fort Wayne Community Schools and the Fort Wayne Public Market. Final lease agreements are contingent on proof financing is in place.
  • Developers have on the line “a highly confidential tenant prospect” from outside Fort Wayne. Developers also say they lost a prospective tenant who got cold feet after reading press reports about uncertain financing.
  • Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne, which put the project on its Road to 1 Million project list, did not arrange a loan for purchase of the property through a subsidiary of ARG Capital, a subsidiary of Ambassador Enterprises. Ambassador's Chief Executive Officer is Daryle Doden, Eric Doden's father.
  • Developers plan this week to apply to the Fort Wayne New Markets Revitalization Fund for a $20 million tax credit allocation of the $55 million awarded the city earlier this year.
  • RCLCO, the consulting firm analyzing the project's finances as required by potential lenders, recently was on site and met with the project's working group.
  • Parker plans to be in town this week and meet with the project's working group.
Categories Quality of Life