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5th District rivals favor renovating old GE site

Jim ChapmanMay 28, 2019

Fort Wayne City Councilman Geoff Paddock said Monday he strongly supports Electric Works and urged officials to stay the course.

Paddock’s Republican opponent in the November election, Taylor Vanover, said allowing the project to suddenly come to a halt is foolish.

Paddock issued a statement, and Vanover a response, a day after developers of the former General Electric campus said the project “will not move forward” unless changes are made.

Paddock, a Democrat, represents Fort Wayne’s 5th District that includes the area just south of downtown where the $248 million first phase of the Electric Works development is planned.

Josh Parker, Kevan Biggs and Jeff Kingsbury, partners in RTV Ventures, the developer of the project, signed a letter that was published in Sunday’s Journal Gazette. The letter said “there continues to be a small group of people in positions of influence and power ... who are working aggressively to thwart the progress of this project and the potential of this community.”

In an interview, Parker declined to name who he believed is trying to sabotage the mixed-use development that includes residential, retail, office, education and entertainment tenants, with an emphasis on innovation.

Paddock said he met four years ago with concerned citizens and neighbors who lived near the abandoned and decaying former General Electric plant. “The purpose of the meeting was to see if a group of citizens could be formed to promote reuse of the factory and gain support from the pubic and private sectors,” he said.

Paddock said it’s not uncommon for large projects such as Electric Works to be delayed. “We have seen this happen with Headwaters Park, Parkview Field, Skyline Plaza, and many other important downtown developments that have added economic vitality and jobs to our city,” Paddock said.

He said Electric Works would revitalize many neighborhoods surrounding the old GE campus and help improve the Broadway, Fairfield, Taylor, Calhoun, and Harrison Street corridors.

Vanover said the city and community must focus on how this site can be developed, even if that means incremental construction and occupation of the space. He said the city shouldn’t eliminate all risk for the developers, but work closely with them to keep the project on track.

“If the concerns are based on whispers in the halls of Citizens Square, then the mayor and key members of his administration must eliminate all questions about their position on this project with unequivocal statements of support,” Vanover said.

The current site, Vanover said, has blighted the Broadway corridor for too long, and “providing hope for the surrounding neighborhoods is as important as the economic impact of the project.”

Vanover said Paddock “presents himself as the progenitor of the concept and the father of Electric Works. I find this statement to be farfetched.” 

Paddock was one of six councilmen who voted in October to approve a $10 million grant from the city’s Legacy Fund for the Electric Works project. The Legacy Fund consists of money generated by the lease and sale of the city’s old power utility. The measure passed 6-3, with Councilmen Paul Ensley, R-1st, Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Jason Arp, R-4th, voting against it.

“We must stay the course with Electric Works,” Paddock said. “Thousands of concerned citizens, and a vast majority of citizens in the 5th District, want to see this move forward.”

jchapman@jg.net

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