August 6, 2020 - Leaders are tasked with making difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions.
As I near the completion of my 13th year as mayor, I've certainly had my share of ups and downs. But, thanks to residents, businesses and other elected officials, we've been able to revitalize our downtown, build stronger neighborhoods, provide unique quality-of-life amenities and place an emphasis on being the safest city possible.
No matter the situation, we've always come through stronger and more committed, moving ourselves forward with hope and optimism.
Cities that can effectively respond to challenges and unforeseen emergencies will be the ones that survive and advance.
This year, though, has presented us with a significant number of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unparalleled health challenges, job losses, continued economic uncertainty and increasing municipal demands. While COVID-19 cases are declining in some parts of the country, new cases and deaths are still increasing in other areas.
Access to capital to build a more sustainable and inclusive economy has never been clearer and more urgent.
Decreases in food and beverage taxes, income taxes and gasoline taxes are putting significant strains on all government budgets.
Time, patience, discipline and commitment are becoming essential elements to help eliminate the pandemic.
This year has also provided us with an opening to confront and have real discussions on public safety and racial justice and how best to ensure all our citizens know they are respected, valued and appreciated.
In addition, 2020 offered an opportunity with the proposed redevelopment of the former GE campus near downtown.
However, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission determined the Electric Works project slated for that site should not move forward as originally planned. The developer, RTM Ventures, wasn't able to meet the requirements of the economic development agreement, including a shortfall of $51 million needed from the private sector.
Initially, the local public funding partners (City of Fort Wayne, Allen County Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board of Managers and Allen County Commissioners) approved $65 million toward the project.
Additionally, every request made by the developer was met.
However, over the past four years and after numerous meetings, five contract extensions and five contract amendments (to allow more time for the developer to secure private financing, lock in leased tenants and meet other thresholds), the Redevelopment Commission lost confidence in the developer's ability to bring this initiative to fruition.
The private-sector side of the public-private partnership could not seem to come together to support a project of this size and scope.
I know it was a difficult vote. Tough votes always are. Leadership isn't always easy or popular. As fiduciaries, though, the Redevelopment Commission could not risk losing $65 million of your tax dollars. Those funds need to be protected and positioned for future projects benefitting our city.
I trust and support the Redevelopment Commission's decision.
All along, our community and I wanted Electric Works to happen and succeed. It's disappointing and unfortunate that the development team wasn't able to meet the requirements to move the project forward. I have no ill will toward RTM Ventures and wish them well.
Financially, it appears this initiative was just a bridge too far.
I can say with confidence that the City of Fort Wayne put more time and energy into trying to make Electric Works a reality than any other project in memory.
In fact, the Redevelopment Commission indicated a willingness to reengage with RTM Ventures under a new agreement and new funding outlines or engage with another developer to see what could be possible.
I want to assure the supporters of Electric Works that the enthusiasm and interest in the GE campus is still there.
It will take time to determine what happens next, but by working together there will eventually be a development on the campus we can all be proud of.
My administration is also committed to working with Do it Best to help ensure their plans for a corporate headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne.
Even though we're going through an uncomfortable time on multiple fronts, I'm confident Fort Wayne will continue to thrive. Our future is bright, and I'm encouraged that our best days are ahead of us.
NOTE: This op-ed originally appeared in The Journal Gazette on August 6, 2020. The City of Fort Wayne received permission from The Journal Gazette to re-run the article on this website.