Jehl sets terms for backing project

June 6, 2018 GMT

In a letter to Mayor Tom Henry on Tuesday, Fort Wayne City Councilman Russ Jehl outlined several points he wants considered as negotiations continue on a public-funding package for the planned Electric Works redevelopment project south of downtown.

Specifically, Jehl, R-2nd, said he wants any unused funds returned to the city coffers; the developer’s fee placed in escrow “so the developer’s money is exposed along with the taxpayer’s”; creation of an advisory panel of local developers and real estate experts; and a complete list of infrastructure improvements and associated costs.

“The GE Electric Works project has weighed heavily on my heart, and I am sure it has weighed heavily on you as well,” Jehl’s letter states. “As we wrestle with the possibilities and implications of such a public investment, both positive and negative, the project will only be feasible with united municipal leadership.”

Speaking to reporters ahead of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Jehl said he sent three letters : two to Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend and one to Tim Haffner, the city’s corporate counsel and chair of the Electric Works Working Group : in late March and early April outlining his concerns and requests for information. Jehl said he has not yet received a response.

In his letter to Henry, Jehl also asked that City Council be briefed on a development agreement no later than 30 days before the terms are made public. Jehl also said he wants anyone associated with the city, the county, the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board or Greater Fort Wayne Inc. to disclose any immediate family members with a financial stake in the project within five days of the development agreement’s announcement.

During a public forum, RTM Ventures, the firm developing Electric Works, said a funding package could be released soon.

It’s important to have a list of infrastructure improvements associated with the project, Jehl said, because it could represent more public investment to support Electric Works beyond the 50 million in city funding, about $13.6 million of which could come from the city’s Legacy Fund. The Legacy Joint Funding Committee is currently considering a proposal to fund Electric Works.

“In reality what we’re talking about is 100 million, not $65 million.”

Jehl also said it’s “just common sense” for savings to be returned to taxpayers if the project comes in under budget. Electric Works’ first phase is expected to cost about $221 million.

“If the taxpayer is an investor, if there are ways to save money and if there are ways for this to come in under budget, the taxpayer should be given back a proportional amount of their investment,” Jehl said.

The advisory panel of developers and real estate experts would serve to provide insight into the terms of any development agreement between city officials and RTM Ventures, Jehl said. It would also answer questions related to whether the proposed development costs are in line with the cost of other new construction in the Fort Wayne area, he said.

“The most important thing is not that this project works for the developer,” Jehl said. “The most important thing is that anything that’s done here works for the taxpayer.”

Jehl was joined Tuesday by Councilmen Paul Ensley, R-1st, and John Crawford, R-at large. Crawford, who is running for mayor in 2019, has said he fully supports the Electric Works development. But Tuesday, Crawford supported Jehl, stating that his questions deserved answers.

“He is trying to find a way to yes, but he has to have these answers to know if it’s a good yes or not,” Crawford said. “So I applaud him for trying to get more and more answers as quick as we can.”