Legacy board advances request
By Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette
A Legacy Fund request from the developers of the planned Electric Works project south of downtown Fort Wayne moved forward Wednesday in a 7-2 vote by the city's Legacy Joint Funding Committee.
Although the committee voted to move the project forward and allow Fort Wayne Community Development to negotiate an agreement with RTM Ventures, the firm developing the project, it is unclear how much money would be approved from the Legacy Fund. The committee is considering a $13.6 million request, split between a $6 million loan and a $7.6 million grant.
Once an agreement is put together, the Legacy Fund's investment committee will review the contract and return it to the Joint Funding Committee with a recommendation. The funding committee will then hold a special meeting to vote on the agreement and send it to City Council for final approval. To gain funding, the project would require six “yes” votes at City Council and the approval of Mayor Tom Henry, who urged funding committee members early Wednesday afternoon to support the proposal.
“Of course, final approval of any recommendation from the Legacy Joint Funding Committee would rest with City Council and myself,” Henry said in a statement. “Any release of Legacy funds and what an entire local funding assistance package could look like would obviously be contingent on RTM/Broadway meeting the requirements that will be defined in a development agreement that's in the process of being finalized.”
The funding committee, at the behest of committee member and City Councilman Paul Ensley, also instructed Fort Wayne Community Development and the investment committee to explore whether it's possible to structure the entire agreement as a loan, as opposed to splitting funding between grants and loans.
Over nearly two hours, RTM's Kevan Biggs and Jeff Kingsbury fielded pointed and detailed questions from the committee's nine members regarding the project's scope and how much other funding – what officials and developers call the capital stack – has been secured.
RTM Ventures has asked for $65 million in public funds from city and county sources to close a funding gap for the $221 million first phase but has yet to secure commitments for those contributions. The first phase will include the entire west campus of the former General Electric plant.
RTM has also applied for a portion of $55 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits awarded to the city. Henry is expected to announce the recipients of this year's New Markets Tax Credits today.
In an interview after Wednesday's meeting, Biggs said it's possible the $13.6 million Legacy officials were considering could change. The Legacy Fund consists of money generated by the lease and sale of Fort Wayne's old power utility.
“The proposal that came before the committee today was a recommendation from the small working group that was made up of representatives from the city and some other bodies,” Biggs said. “Actually, our development team didn't come up with those numbers. We're simply representing that committee's recommendation to move this forward.”
Biggs acknowledged that the capital stack hasn't yet been fully defined and said that once that funding is secured, the amount of the Legacy Fund allocation could change.
Ensley and Legacy Committee Chairman Kyle Kerley voted against moving the proposal forward. Both said they were hesitant to support the motion without a clearly defined capital stack. Kerley and Ensley stressed that they support the project but were uncomfortable making a recommendation without all of the necessary information.
“You can't make a recommendation on a project without knowing what the project is and knowing the full funding gap, knowing where all the money is coming from,” Ensley said. “The Legacy Fund is not supposed to be the first dollar in, we're supposed to be the last dollar in.”
City Councilmen Tom Didier and Geoff Paddock voted in favor of advancing the project, as did Garry Morr, Stephanie Crandall, Carol Helton, Steve Corona and Stacey Smith.
Community members who have more questions about the Electric Works project will soon have an opportunity to speak to members of the development team. A community forum is planned for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Grand Wayne Center.
The forum will be open to the public, and the development team plans to provide updates, an overview and key information about the development, followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by local media. City Council is also expected to consider two rezoning petitions and a primary development plan for the site next month.
The rezonings, which cover both the east and west sides of the project, would change the land from its current residential classification to limited commercial.