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City council meeting leaves unanswered questions on where Electric Works project is headed

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The future for the Electric Works project remains uncertain, following a city council meeting seeking answers about why a key economic agreement tied to the project was terminated last month.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne's NBC) - Even Mayor Tom Henry's administration concedes there is a fair amount of uncertainty about where we go from here on the much-anticipated Electric Works endeavor.

For years, city leaders and residents have imagined the possibilities regarding the future of a planned restoration of the old General Electric campus into a thriving new commercial center.

But there is a big roadblock.

Mayor Tom Henry's administration no longer thinks RTM Ventures, the developer, is up to the task on its own.

Tuesday night, city council summoned, among others, representatives of RTM Ventures and the mayor's office to answer questions about the proposed $280-million project, wanting to know what really prompted the city redevelopment commission to nullify an economic development agreement that pulled back tens of millions of dollars in local government funding support for Electric Works.

Tim Haffner, corporation counsel to Mayor Henry, portrayed the development firm's private financing package as being suspect, referring to portions of it as "a mirage".

Haffner said the mayor lost confidence in RTM Ventures' ability to get the project done without putting taxpayer money at risk, and that he wants a different lead developer.

The mayor himself didn't show up to the meeting.

City council members weren't satisfied with all they heard, at one point voting unanimously to introduce a resolution calling for a formal investigation of the economic development agreement's termination.

RTM Ventures believes it is getting unfair mixed messages from the mayor's office.

"They've said we're open to have RTM come back to the table, but then you heard Mr. Haffner say that there's been trust lost and they want a different developer, so there's just been complete inconsistent statements that they're making, which has been very challenging for us," said Kevan Biggs with RTM.

"At the end of the day we want to make sure that the site is developed well, that it's sustainable for now and for generations to come. We also have to keep in mind too that we're doing everything we can to make sure that Do it Best, that their needs are met, that they stay here as a large and successful employer," said John Perlich, a spokesperson for Mayor Henry.

Perlich was referring to the fact Do it Best Corporation has committed to situating its world headquarters at Electric Works, becoming the anchor tenant for the project.

If the project doesn't happen, there is real concern that Do it Best will leave Allen County in search of a new home for the headquarters.

The company did not respond to our messages, but Perlich concedes that Do it Best has its heart set on locating the headquarters at Electric Works, and not someplace else in the county.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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