Development is already booming in the Indiana city of Fort Wayne, with $800 million in investment dollars already flowing into the city’s downtown. That’s why the Electric Works mixed-use development is such good news for this city. The sprawling development will bring new life to the 39 acres that once served as the Fort Wayne home of General Electric, providing yet another boost to a city that is already going through a rebirth.
How massive is this new project? Electric Works ranks as one of the largest redevelopments in the entire Midwest. The project includes 18 buildings that will be transformed into 1.2 million square feet of commercial, retail, educational, residential, hotel and community space.
The developer behind the project, RTM Ventures, says that the goal of Electric Works is to attract high-paying jobs, top talent and a surge of investment dollars to a city that is already seeing plenty of economic momentum.
“This is a big, bold and massive project,” said Kevan Biggs, development partner at RTM Ventures. “It’s just such a massive campus. You can’t venture into a project like this and take off a tiny nibble. We needed something of the right size and scale to have a meaningful impact.”
The first phase of the project, dubbed West Campus, will include about 712,000 square feet at an estimated cost of $248 million. Developers passed the final of six funding hurdles in November of last year. Already, 12 tenants have signed agreements to lease space at Electric Works. Construction is expected to begin this June.
The Electric Works campus is an important plot of land in Fort Wayne. The campus traces its start back to the creation of the Fort Wayne Electric Company in the late 19th Century. The oldest building on the campus is thought to date back to 1893.
General Electric acquired this company at the beginning of the 20th century, eventually building four large-scale manufacturing buildings on the land. The site reached its peak in the late 1940s, when the campus employed about 40 percent of Fort Wayne’s workforce.
John Urbahns, president and chief executive officer of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., said that the history of the site, and its long importance to Fort Wayne meant that city officials had to approve the right project for this land.
Urbahns said that Electric Works – with its emphasis on building an innovation community in Fort Wayne – is that right choice.
“Most people in the community have some sort of tie to that campus,” Urbahns said. “It represents a legacy of entrepreneurship, ingenuity and manufacturing in our community. It has long been at the core of our community. This is the next step. This project will impact not just downtown Fort Wayne, but the neighborhoods surrounding it. The size of this project is so significant, it makes it all the more important how we move forward.”
Another goal here? To create a walkable community. Biggs said that Electric Works will feature restaurants, shops and entertainment. There will be housing options here, too. People will work in office and tech space on the campus.
“This will be a first of its kind in Fort Wayne, but these walkable communities are not new across the country,” Biggs said. “This is a place where creative people will congregate. It will be a desirable mix for businesses that want a better quality location for their employees.”
Biggs said that RTM Ventures is still about two-and-a-half years out on delivering the first phase of this development. That hasn’t dampened interest in the project, though. Biggs said that RTM has about 125,000 square feet of letters of intent alredy lined up for the first phase.
“These are companies that are willing to wait for this product to come online,” Biggs said. “I’m absolutely certain that as we get within that window of normal decision-making for most businesses, we will be able to accelerate our activities and get the project leased up quickly.”
Urbahns said that the Electric Works project is more evidence that Fort Wayne is in the middle of a commercial real estate hot streak. He said that the office vacancy rate throughout Fort Wayne is now about 10 percent, while that number falls to 7 percent for downtown Fort Wayne. Industrial space boasts an even lower 4 percent vacancy rate, Urbahns said.
“There is not a lot of office space on the market right now,” Urbahns said. “One of the areas we need more of is Class-A office space. We need projects like Electric Works to attract companies to Fort Wayne. This is a pretty tight market now. We definitely have a need for product like this to help us continue to grow.”