When innovators meet, conversations follow a familiar script.

“What are you working on?” they ask each other. After listening intently, they typically remark: “I know a guy you should talk to. Let me put you in touch.”

Those conversations can happen by accident but don't have to, says RTM Ventures, the partnership putting together a deal to remake the former General Electric campus into a mixed-used development. The first phase is projected to cost $248 million, a combination of private and public money.

A key component of Electric Works is a 72,000-square-foot Innovation District, a space designed to encourage those seemingly random but oh-so-valuable encounters to happen more often.

In many ways, success of the entire 700,000-square-foot first phase depends on whether developers can assemble a robust roster of tenants for the Innovation District. The potential payoff is a return to Fort Wayne's heyday, when inventions including the television and magnet wire – a component in all motors – were created.

Leasing commitments have already been made by the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, the Indiana University Research Technology Corp., Fort Wayne Metals Research Products Corp. and Medical Informatics Engineering.

RTM Ventures is working to sign enough long-term leases with established businesses and organizations to satisfy bankers' requirements. Lenders want to see at least 330,000 of the 700,000-square-foot total spoken for before signing on the deal, which is the final step before closing.

Giving back

Crystal Vann Wallstrom, Electric Works' managing director of innovation, has been pitching the Innovation District's merits to business leaders throughout the region for more than 1-1/2 years.
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