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Shadowy Saboteurs In Dark Alleys

By Jim Sack

It is becoming tiresome.

On Indiana Business Journal two of the leaders of the effort to redevelop ye olde GE campus rebranded as Electric Works regurgitated their conspiracy theory that a few shadowy figures in Fort Wayne leadership are all that stand between their glorious vision and a grand opening.  


Gerry Dick, the program anchor and WANE-TV alumnae, nodded as if he agreed, but failed to ask the obvious question, “who.”  

Eric Doden, former this and that in economic development in Indiana, sat next to Jeff Kingsbury who had uttered the lie.  

There are no leaders of local government hanging out in shadowy alleys spreading undermining innuendoes against Electric Works.  

The closest Kingsbury and Doden can come is Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer who has demanded clear answers about EW developers’ financing assumptions.  Call him concerned.

Mayor Henry, who employs Bandemer, along with leaders in county government have approved $65 million of our money for the developer’s to build out the 100-year old complex into yoga studios, a farmer’s market, classrooms and more.  The estimated cost for the complex is $440 million.  The city already estimates another $30 to $40 million will be needed to upgrade infrastructure in the area, including a new street the developers want us to build for their convenience.  Additionally, the city has gifted the developers scores of vacant lots in the area to help the development along.  We, in the person of city government, the mayor and deputy mayor, have not been stingy.  Not at all.  

It is the developers who have failed to sell tenants in order to sell the bankers.  

In order to wrangle the other $380 million they have gone to the state, the feds, banks and fat cats.  They have shown their pretty pictures of restored buildings and chic clientele sipping away on cappuccino beneath a canopy of soon-to-be planted flowering dogwood.  

Trouble is the banks have balked.  They have a good reason: Electric Works has not met their promised, necessary lease threshold to qualify for the loans.  Kingsbury says they have lots of “commitments,” but they are not signed leases.  Without sufficient signed leases hard-headed, bottom line driven bankers won’t cough up the rest of the funding. 

So, recently, EW hired Eric Doden, the guy who ran Greater Fort Wayne, the beefed-up successor to the Chamber of Commerce, to beat the bushes for tenants.  He has gotten nowhere.  On the aforementioned TV program Doden did say he was in talks daily nationwide.  He did not announce a single signed lease.  

Additionally, word is EW has not paid some of their contractors in full.  

Meanwhile, the developers asked the city, us, additionally to guarantee perhaps as much as $20 million in hoped for leases so, should Kingsbury and Co. default the bankers would be assured their money back, thanks to the taxpayer.   The city turned them down.  

Part of the problem EW faces is the renaissance in downtown Fort Wayne with thousands of additional new square feet of office space sopping up demand.  Additionally, there is a world-wide trend toward downsizing staff and working from home.  Finally, the Electric Works project is huge, offering a 40% increase in the city’s central district office space.  If we build it will they fill it…  Perhaps.  The bankers are not convinced.   They want signed leases.  Doden is empty handed. 

So, it is natural Doden and Kingsbury would conjure up a bogyman to transfer some of the blame for a stagnant project.  Remember, the public money is in place, signed off by the same people they say are now undermining their project.  

The real obstacle is whether lenders believe the developers can succeed.   

So, it is not Karl Bandemer or the mayor or members of city council who are to blame for the Electric Works doldrums.  Doden, Kingsbury and the other developers need to take a few days, retreat to Wawasee and redesign their effort in light of lender reservations.  

Repeatedly conjuring up a nameless bogyman does not inspire confidence.  

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