Regional board gets 3 requests

November 15th, 2016

Development money sought

By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Three projects will be pitched today to the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority. The board’s November meeting will be in Geneva, about one hour south of Fort Wayne.

Applicants are seeking to extend an Adams County fitness trail, create an Angola enterprise center and renovate a downtown Huntington building for mixed use.

Combined, $2.4 million in grants is being sought for projects totaling $13.5 million.

Including these latest applications, the Regional Development Authority has received requests for $19.6 million – or about half of the $42 million grant it received from the state as part of the Regional Cities Initiative.

The projects’ total price tag is $138 million, a number that includes private investment and other funding sources.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp., which oversees grant distribution, has said state money shouldn’t pay for more than 20 percent of a project’s total cost. The board remains on pace to meet that threshold by approving a smaller percentage of money for projects that have big commercial appeal and allowing a larger percentage for projects that don’t lend themselves to private investment, including trails, Michael Galbraith said. 

Galbraith is director of the Road to One Million, the organized effort to spend that money to jump-start economic development in northeast Indiana.

The walking and biking trail is being built to connect Geneva and Berne. A portion of the trail is finished from Geneva to the Wabash River. Organizers now need help getting over the river.

An existing bridge spans only half of the Wabash. The remainder was sold years ago for scrap metal. Trail project leaders found a suitable historic bridge that would have to be reassembled.

The estimated cost is $3.55 million. South Adams Trails Inc. is asking for $500,000.

Long-term plans call for the trail to go from Geneva, through Berne, through Decatur to the south side of Fort Wayne.

“They’re like spider webs from each city,” Galbraith said of the network of trails emanating from various cities. “The hardest part is connecting one spider web to another.” 

Steuben County Economic Development Corp. plans to convert 70,000 square feet into The Enterprise Center. The five-building complex would offer an area devoted to industrial retraining, including lessons in welding and operating CNC – or computer numerical controlled – machinery.

“Everywhere you go, you hear that’s a skill (employers) are just dying for,” Galbraith said of CNC training. “They want a workforce that’s ready to go.”

Other areas would offer co-working office space and a business incubator. Northeast Indiana Works also plans to move the Steuben County WorkOne career center into the building.

The estimated cost is $1.9 million. Steuben officials are asking for $323,000.

The largest request is from the city of Huntington, Huntington University, Pathfinder Services and Anderson Partners, an Indianapolis developer.

A three-building block across from Huntington’s courthouse would be revitalized into what’s being called the UB Block. UB is short for United Brethren in Christ, an evangelical denomination affiliated with Huntington University.

The four-story buildings would include areas for commercial, retail and residential occupants.

The portion designated for a business incubator would be run by Huntington University, which plans to expand its programs that focus on entrepreneurship and economic and civic collaboration. That space would include offices, a conference room, a classroom and small kitchen. 

Pathfinder would run a first-floor coffee shop and art gallery. Pathfinder’s mission is to create opportunities for people with physical, developmental and economic challenges.

And apartments priced at market rates would take up the upper floors.

The estimated cost is $8 million. Developers are asking for $1.6 million.

The Regional Cities program has placed a priority on developing downtowns, bringing residential units downtown, supporting small business development and advancing the arts. This project checks many of those boxes, Galbraith said.

“What’s neat about this,” he added, “is it’s right smack dab in the middle of Huntington.”