‘New future for our region’

December 16th, 2015

News Coverage:

December 16, 2015 1:03 A

New future for our region
Northeast Indiana lands $42 million to draw younger generations, but funding in limbo

Niki Kelly and Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Northeast Indiana  – represented by 11 counties and anchored by Fort Wayne – won a $42 million jackpot Tuesday to transform the region into an area with a national draw.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s trustees selected three regions in the state – northeast, north central and southwest – to receive Regional Cities grants.

“We’re writing a new future for our region and our state,” said John Sampson, president of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which was instrumental in directing the effort. 

Officials didn’t simply hope for state funding but worked hard to secure it, he added. 

“We planned to be here today,” Sampson said.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority was formed to distribute state grants to various applicants, including Fort Wayne’s downtown riverfront development and a network of area trails. The extensive proposal focused on improving quality of place to attract younger generations to the region.

Sampson and about 20 other northeast Indiana residents who have worked on the project attended the announcement and hugged and high-fived after the official vote.

“I continue to be encouraged by the momentum and investment we’re seeing by working collectively to make a meaningful difference throughout northeast Indiana,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said in a statement. “We’re a region moving in the right direction. I’m looking forward to seeing how the implementation of several innovative projects will strengthen our position as an economic and quality-of-place leader.”

Jeff Turner, the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority’s board chairman, was unable to attend the announcement. In a phone interview afterward, he called it excellent news.

“It is the culmination of 10 years of hard work by northeast Indiana officials,” he said.

There is one complication, though – only $84 million is in hand for the program. The legislature still has to approve transferring additional funds raised through successful tax amnesty collections – $70 million or more.

That leaves the regions in limbo while waiting to make sure the full funding is available. It is unclear what happens if lawmakers balk at providing new money to the initiative, which already was a tough sell. One region could be removed or the money could be split three ways.

Turner sees significance in the fact that the IEDC didn’t designate one region to be on the bubble in case the program isn’t expanded to include a third recipient. That tells him state officials are confident the expansion will be approved.

Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, has agreed to carry the bill, and Gov. Mike Pence said he is confident after speaking to legislative leaders that they will support his request for the additional dollars that weren’t expected.

“The enthusiasm that you sense in the room today … will certainly help us make our case that we have three proposals that we believe merit the full funding to get this program started,” Pence said.

Hershman said the regional approach makes perfect sense, and it is “hard for regional areas to leverage resources to really compete. Time will tell how it works out, but the concept is very strong.”

Sampson said there is no need to wait until after the session to start projects because the majority of the money is in the bank and appropriated by the legislature, and northeast Indiana has projects ready to go.

“There was never going to be a check for $42 million upfront,” he said “We need a couple million at a time.”

Pence said he doesn’t “see any reason why we wouldn’t begin to move the resources immediately forward.”

Northeast Indiana formed the state’s largest regional development authority with 11 counties. Its proposal is highlighted by a $72.5 million regional trails network and a $68.7 million riverfront development in Fort Wayne.

Over the first two years, the northeast Indiana project totals $471 million in investment. The remainder of the plan totals about $1 billion in investment, but those projects are not fully developed and did not request a state match at this time.

The region’s proposal included 70 projects, of which 38 were earmarked to be implemented in the first two years. In addition to state funding, local dollars and private sector matches will be included.

Turner, who chairs the group that will be distributing state money in this region, said his board wants to receive applications as soon as possible. Guidelines will be available in January, following approval of the full funding amount.

After speaking with IEDC officials in recent weeks, Turner is confident they want a streamlined grant application and review process without a lot of rules or restrictions.“The hard work starts now for the Regional Development Authority,” he said. “But it’s going to be fun work.”

By the numbers

Among the 70 projects included in northeast Indiana’s grant proposal to the Regional Cities Initiative are:

$72.5 million

regional trails network connecting 11 counties

$68.7 million

Fort Wayne riverfront development 

$38 million

IPFW Center for Leadership

$23.3 million

North Buffalo residential and mixed-use project in Warsaw

$20 million

redevelopment of The Landing in downtown Fort Wayne into an entertainment destination

$10 million

vice presidential museum and learning center at Huntington University

$9.9 million

Rock City Lofts project in Wabash

$7.3 million

downtown lofts and co-working space in Decatur

$4 million

Columbia City outdoor aquatics facility

$2.3 million

Outdoor recreation complex in Kendallville