RDA board delays decision on projects

March 15th, 2017

By Barry Rochford | KPC News - The News Sun

The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority postponed making a decision about whether to provide Regional Cities Initiative funding for seven projects — including three from Noble County — at its meeting Tuesday.

The reason why is fairly straightforward: There’s not enough money to go around — at least as far as what’s been requested for each project.

In late 2015, northeast Indiana was among three regions tapped to receive a $42 million grant by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. through its Regional Cities Initiative.

Since then, the Northeast Indiana RDA board, which is charged with awarding Regional Cities funding to qualifying quality-of-life projects, has committed $34.3 million of the original $42 million. Funding requests for the seven projects the board presently is weighing total nearly $9 million, which is more than what’s available.

RDA board members didn’t comment about the pending proposals at their meeting Tuesday at the 1st Source Center in downtown Fort Wayne.

Michael Galbraith, director of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Road to One Million plan, who serves as a staff member for the RDA board, said the board wanted more time to study the seven projects and to see whether adjustments could be made to the amount of Regional Cities money each has requested.

“I’m hopeful that the next meeting will have some answers,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting.

The three local projects include the city of Kendallville’s request for $400,000 in Regional Cities funding for the expansion of the Kendallville Outdoor Recreation Complex on Allen Chapel Road. That project, which would add four youth-sized ball fields and other amenities to the complex, is estimated to cost $2.4 million.

The city of Ligonier is seeking a $254,000 grant for its $1.3 million project to develop the Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail. The five-mile loop would connect the existing Elkhart Riverwalk to the downtown area, murals and historical landmarks, and city parks.

Noble Trails Inc., which is spearheading a $1.02 million project to complete the 12-mile-long Fishing Line Trail between Rome City and Kendallville, has asked for $175,000 in Regional Cities funding.

Those three recreational projects are vying for funding against:

  • A $26.4 million project to develop a riverfront park in Fort Wayne, seeking $5.3 million in Regional Cities funding;
  • A $5 million project to expand the Eagles Theatre in Wabash, seeking $1 million in Regional Cities funding;
  • A $4.8 million project to develop the Wabash River Trail in Wabash County, seeking more than $960,000 in Regional Cities funding; and
  • A $4.3 million project to build an aquatics facility in Whitley County, seeking more than $861,000 in Regional Cities funding.

The RDA board next will meet April 11 at the Honeywell Center in Wabash.

Also on Tuesday, the Northeast Indiana RDA voted to not use its eminent-domain powers if it ultimately awards Regional Cities funding to the Wabash River Trail project.

Concerns about the RDA board’s authority to declare eminent domain over privately held land had caused some local officials to suggest Wabash County withdraw from the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority.

That has never been the RDA board’s intent with any of the projects it has committed to funding, Galbraith said.

“We just wanted to make it perfectly clear that the board has no thought, no desire to be part of any such action,” he said.

Board members Bob Marshall, Brad Bishop, Gene Donaghy and Andrew Briggs voted 4-0 to approve the measure. Board member Jeff Turner was absent.