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Fort Wayne City Council approves tax abatement for Project Zodiac

Rebecca Green

The planned data center for a more than 200-acre plot of land on Fort Wayne’s southeast side, more commonly known as Project Zodiac, got a tax break from the Fort Wayne City Council Friday.

By a vote of 7-0, with Republicans Jason Arp and Paul Ensley absent, the council approved a full abatement of the business personal property tax for the next 40 years to the unnamed Fortune 100 company building the data center.

Prior to the meeting, 2nd District Councilman Russ Jehl (R) said the proposal was different from most economic development projects he’s seen before since the data center will house automated computer servers.

“What makes this so unusual is when you think about economic development, you usually think about jobs and you think about payroll and what that means to the community,” Jehl said. “Well these are computer servers. So, there’s virtually no jobs, and there’s virtually no payroll created.”

Project Zodiac calls for a campus of up to 12 buildings. So far, developers have committed to building three buildings. Jehl said that kind of ambiguity also made this proposal different.

“Do they eventually build all 12 because right now it starts out with a small commitment working its way up to a large commitment,” Jehl said.

Throughout the planning process, members of the community have raised concerns about possible environmental impacts and noise levels.

Sixth-District Councilwoman Sharon Tucker (D), represents the area in which the data center will be built. She said she toured a similar facility in Columbus, Ohio and told the community Friday they have nothing to worry about.

“Those things will not be impacted by our community,” Tucker said. “I also saw these things which were even more important. I saw the connection of third party vendors.”

Tucker said when she toured the facility, the noise level of the servers was so low, she had to ask if they were on. She said water for cooling the servers had been well-managed and that property values in the surrounding areas had gone up since the facility’s construction.

Project Zodiac developers have promised numerous jobs to the community with the construction of the data center, but they have only listed a little more than 30 jobs at the facility.

Jehl said that meant the only benefit from the project would be from property taxes and cash from the land sale.

Friday’s tax abatement does not absolve Project Zodiac of all tax payments.

The company will still pay a minimum of $1 million a year in real estate taxes starting day one. That amount will go up as more buildings are built on the campus. Developers said by the end of 2028, Project Zodiac will have paid more than $800 million to the city in real estate taxes.

Tucker said she saw what jobs developers were talking about when she went to the Ohio facility. Additional jobs such as landscaping, security, and janitorial staff would be provided by a third party, in addition to those 30 jobs from the company.

Tucker said businesses near the Ohio facility saw economic impact from construction, as contractors needed places to stay and eat.

Tucker said she was so impressed with what she saw in Ohio that her only concern is that the 6th District is not fully equipped to reap all the benefits.

“Right away, we’re going to have contractors that are going to be coming in,” Tucker said. “Those contractors are not going to buy houses on day one. They’re going to look for hotels and places that they can stay. Southeast Fort Wayne does not offer that to those individuals right now.”

Tucker said those contractors would have to find those hotels in New Haven or downtown Fort Wayne.

She hopes this project will push the council to fund more projects on the southeast side of Fort Wayne like hotels so that it can be better prepared for economic development plans like Project Zodiac.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.