Marketing for project criticized

April 25, 2018 GMT

Several Fort Wayne City Council members Tuesday presented a fresh round of concerns about the proposed Electric Works project south of downtown, with one councilman sharply criticizing a Greater Fort Wayne marketing campaign to increase public support.

Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, criticized the $200,000 public relations move as well-intentioned but a waste of time and money. The campaign will include social media, direct mailings and other marketing tools to support the redevelopment of the former General Electric campus.

“I’ve several times sat down with the developers and said, ‘Well, what do you want from me,’” Barranda said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. “And at this point, the answer is, ‘Nothing,’ because there is no project before this body.” 

Barranda said that money should be put to use to help put together a concrete proposal that council can scrutinize and vote upon.

“I would encourage Greater Fort Wayne, if you’re going to spend $200,000, don’t spend it on drumming up more ads in the papers and talk to people to tell us to vote for something,” Barranda said. “Work on the actual project and give us something that we can actually look at.”

But until that happens, Barranda said Greater Fort Wayne “is barking up the wrong tree” by encouraging constituents to ask him to support the project as it stands. 

Councilmen John Crawford, R-at large, Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Jason Arp, R-4th, agreed with Barranda. Crawford said it’s time “to start moving things along.” Jehl said “it’s absurd” that the council has had few answers throughout the process. Arp said he was interested to learn from a constituent that Greater Fort Wayne Inc. had dispatched advocates to a high school in his district to encourage students to contact council members about Electric Works. 

Crawford, who is running for mayor in 2019, has said Electric Works has his full support. 

After acknowledging concerns about the viability of the project moving forward, Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said he is more optimistic than he had been that a financial plan and package will come forward soon. He also reminded the council that the Legacy Joint Funding Committee is expected to review the plan May 24. 

Paddock also called on the developers to hold a public information and input session to allow questions and comments from supporters and opponents. 

“We need to be in a position to be totally transparent, we need to get all the facts out, we need to talk specifically about the finances involved, and I think most importantly for me, we need to talk about the expected return on investment for the city and the county,” Paddock said. “This is a tall order. This will be a tough project to bring forward in a very short period of time. But I would hope we can begin that, and we can move forward before the Legacy Review Committee on May 24.”