Fort Wayne has never lacked for skeptics. Fortunately, it's also had its share of leaders willing to back a vision for a better, brighter city.
Fifteen years ago, it was a downtown baseball stadium that drew critics: "Why are we moving heaven and Earth to build a tax-paid stadium downtown to be the 'savior' of downtown Fort Wayne and turn the existing tax-paid stadium into a new tax-paid parking lot?" one of those skeptics asked.
More recently, revitalization of the former General Electric plant drew similar scorn: Too big. Too contaminated. Too much public money.
The baseball stadium's critics fell silent after Parkview Field opened in 2009. Look for the Electric Works naysayers to show a bit more restraint as revitalization of the former General Electric complex transforms – yes, transforms – the Broadway corridor. The project is poised to kick-start a renaissance of the near-southside area as surely as Parkview Field ignited downtown development a decade ago.
The Journal Gazette's Sherry Slater reported Sunday on Electric Works' progress. The $286 million development is on track for completion next year. After years of delays in negotiations with the city of Fort Wayne, construction is proceeding smoothly. Pandemic-related shortages in materials haven't been a problem, and supply contracts were signed before the cost of raw materials increased.
Costly remediation work wasn't required for underground utility work, freeing up money for a rooftop deck on Building 19, toward the southern end of the west campus.
Regular visitors to the Fort Wayne Farmers Market at McCulloch Park have had a good vantage point this summer for watching activity at the 39-acre complex across Broadway. Weigand Construction videos posted on the Electric Works Facebook page also reveal progress, including work on Amp Lab, where Fort Wayne Community Schools' new high school, with classes in science, technology, engineering, art and math, will open next fall.
Employee shortages plaguing many other industries haven't been a problem at Electric Works. Senior Project Manager Cody Michaud told Slater about 250 skilled trades workers are on the job there each day. Weigand lined up subcontractors early, he said.
Do it Best Corp., relocating from its current corporate headquarters in New Haven, is expected to move into its new Electric Works space next fall.
Kevan Biggs, a partner in the RTM Ventures development, said space is still available and additional leasing deals will be announced soon.
“There are a lot of exciting things happening around the project,” he told Slater. “Even if we could tell everybody every element of every detail, I think there's still just the reality of it that people can't quite get their heads around.”
Fourteen years ago, Parkview Field skeptics couldn't quite get their heads around a downtown baseball stadium as an engine of economic vitality. Today, any of the remaining Electric Works skeptics might want to take a drive around the development site and see the massive amount of work underway not only there, but also signs of new life along Broadway, north of the development; and accelerated revitalization of the West Central Neighborhood.
Healthy skepticism is always a good thing, as long as it paired with vision and optimism for a better Fort Wayne.