GE developers meet with county
By Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette
Efforts to secure public funding from Allen County officials for the planned Electric Works development continued Thursday as representatives for the developer made their case to the Allen County Council.
Kevan Biggs of Biggs Development and Josh Parker of Cross Street Partners made no specific request Thursday, nor did the council approve any funding commitments. For just under half an hour, council members peppered the developers with questions related to funding sources and the benefit for rural residents. Biggs and Parker are two partners in RTM Ventures, which is developing the Electric Works site.
The developers have asked for $65 million in public money to supplement private funding for the development. At an April 11 news conference, Mayor Tom Henry committed to $50 million in city funds and suggested the remaining $12 million come from the county's coffers. County officials previously approved $1 million out of $3 million for environmental remediation on the site. The Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board supplied the remaining $2 million.
Parker said Thursday that the project's $221 million first phase, situated on the site's west campus, will include about $93 million in private investment on top of federal tax credits. That figure does not include the $65 million local funding request. Biggs and Parker also estimated that the site will generate more than $100 million in tax revenue over 20 years, once the development is complete and operational.
“What does a farmer way down on the south side of Monroeville gain from us investing his dollars into this project?” asked Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-1st. Tucker has said she will have a hard time supporting a $12 million commitment with ambiguous benefits for rural residents.
Tucker's question is one Parker said the development team has heard often since the beginning. The development, he said, will provide “a richer set of amenities and experiences so that folks have a variety of opportunities.” One of those planned amenities, Parker said, is an on-site farmers market that will help local growers get their produce to more people.
“Certainly we know quality of life is improved by having a variety of experiences that are available to folks,” Parker said. “I think this is a unique region in that there are urban areas and rural areas so close together.”
National attention drawn to the area because of Electric Works has been a boon for Allen County, said Councilman Tom Harris, R-2nd. Still, Harris said he's going to need a lot more information before making a decision.
In an interview later Thursday, Harris said he has many questions, including whether a county contribution could be a loan rather than a grant, whether the development is a good project and whether the anticipated results touted by the developers are feasible.
“All of the things (RTM Ventures) talked about this morning, (it's clear) they want to make it a cool place,” Harris said. “But all those cool things aren't really revenue generators.”
Harris also said he's concerned that the riverfront and Electric Works will compete with each other for prospective tenants and community use.
Councilman Eric Tippmann, R-at large, who has publicly supported the project, said it's encouraging to know that as developers, Biggs, Parker and the rest of the partners at RTM Ventures have staked not only their investors' money but their own reputations on the success of the project. That means there's more than money at stake, Tippmann said.
Thursday's presentation comes just a day after City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, refused a request from Henry to sponsor a bill that would spend between $400,000 and $500,000 on legal, logistical and financial expenses moving forward. Crawford, who is exploring a mayoral campaign in 2019, said Henry should approach the city's Redevelopment Commission for those dollars.
Henry has said City Council should approve the request for legal fees because those costs were not originally included in the city's 2018 budget. Without that money, Henry said the city would not be able to afford to perform necessary due diligence work to move the proposal forward.
Henry is expected to meet with county officials next week to discuss the Electric Works project.