In The Area
Blight, whether a dilapidated house or building or a trash-filled street, drags down the area around it.
That’s why neighborhoods around the former General Electric Co. campus on Broadway voice excitement about the proposed Electric Works project. Developer RTM Ventures would spark new energy in the historic factory and office buildings by repurposing them as space for innovation, health care, education, business offices, residences, a farmers market, entertainment and more. If left to deteriorate, the site could become a blight of mammoth proportions casting a dark shadow on the neighborhoods around it.
“This is the right thing to do for this area,” said Mike Anderson, former West Central Neighborhood board president and the operator of West Central Properties, which owns and manages about 300 rental units in downtown Fort Wayne.
Looking west down Swinney Avenue beside the GE campus, Anderson sees huge potential: Unique, restored historic homes standing along red brick streets shaded by a canopy of tall trees.
“It’s like the forgotten stepchild of a vibrant downtown,” he said of the area, which occupies the southern half of the West Central Neighborhood.
The 18 neighborhoods in the Packard Area Planning Alliance (PAPA), which are to the east and south of the former GE site, “absolutely support” investing in the property, said Kody Tinnel, PAPA president and president of Foster Park Neighborhood Association, an alliance member. “As a vacant area, it has no economic value.”
Homes dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s line city streets near the Electric Works project, and many residents there place high value on historic preservation. Electric Works fits with that vision, said Ben Wahli, current West Central Neighborhood board president and a local Realtor.
Wahli said nearby residents also are excited RTM incorporated ideas from GE Property Task Force community meetings held in 2015. The suggestions include walkability to and from Electric Works, interesting food and restaurant choices, and arts and cultural events.
But Electric Works does bring some trepidation to some longtime residents such as Howard Traxmor, who lives in the adjacent Poplar Neighborhood and is a board member of public transportation provider Citilink. Traxmor believes Electric Works should include more housing and should function as a public transportation hub. People from across the economic spectrum ought to be able to live there and enjoy the amenities.
An increase in demand to live near Electric Works could drive up rent prices, property values and property taxes. Neighborhoods don’t want current residents forced out of their apartments, homes or businesses because they no longer can afford to live and work there.
RTM’s Jeff Kingsbury agrees: “We want to have a diversity of people call Electric Works home. We want Electric Works to be a place for all people.”
RTM originally planned 68 housing units in Phase I of the project, which will redevelop most of the west side of the campus. That housing had to be delayed until Phase II because planned anchor tenant Do It Best Corp. needs more office space than allocated in the original project plan, said Kingsbury.
Phase II would build housing on former GE surface parking lots west of Broadway and north of the railroad tracks and the Phase I area, Kingsbury said. Phase III would add substantially more housing on the east side of Broadway. That work will hinge on local demand and market needs. However, encouraging diversity would mean offering units for rent and sale at a range of prices, Kingsbury said. Units also will appeal to households ranging from single young professionals and families to empty-nesters and older adults.
RTM will partner with local government and neighborhoods to ensure housing remains affordable in the future, said Kingsbury.
To prevent problems, RTM set up a Community Enhancement Fund to support projects in neighborhoods around Electric Works. A board of community leaders will decide how to use the fund’s money, such as assisting homeowners on fixed incomes with home repair or helping businesses update facades. The fund’s initial seed money will be supplemented with more than $150,000 a year from rental income for space on the west campus. The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne also established an Electric Works Innovation and Neighborhood Renewal Fund to support research, educational programming, small business development and neighborhood revitalization in that area.
“The developers listened and presented Electric Works,” Wahli wrote in a newspaper letter to the editor in August. “This isn’t their project; it is our project. We are Electric Works. This project is what we, as a city, want.”