Committee wants more info on Regional Cities proposals

Members of a committee formed to recommend which regions of Indiana should receive grants for projects that could help attract businesses want a clearer picture of private-sector support for those plans.

"There's a lot of spark and sizzle in these plans," said Chris LaMothe, a member of the committee that was established by the state economic development board and will decide how to distribute $84 million in funding over the next two years. "There's been a lot of spark and sizzle over the years that went nowhere. I want to know, how firm is that private-sector support?"

The Regional Cities Initiative was designed by Gov. Mike Pence's administration to speed up projects that improve quality of life, making regions more dynamic and attractive to talented young workers. The Strategic Review Committee met Tuesday in Indianapolis to review the seven proposals and plans to meet one or two more times before making a recommendation to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. board on Dec. 15 on how to award two $42 million grants.

Under the plan, the state money would be used to obtain matching federal funds and be supplemented by public and private local revenues.

"We want to make our money do as much as soon as it can," said former Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis, a committee member.

All seven regions presented short-term and long-term projects. The seven submissions include more than 400 projects projects costing about $3.8 billion.

The money will come from a tax amnesty program the Indiana Department of Revenue began in September that runs through Nov. 16.

Davis wondered if the grant money would have a bigger impact if doled out to several different communities for short-term projects that already have private funding in place. It wasn't clear if the awards can be divided among more than two winners, since that is what was specified by the General Assembly.

The seven applicants will be asked to more clearly define the extent to which their proposals are shovel-ready.

Several committee members expressed interest in northwest Indiana's plan to install a second track for the South Shore commuter rail line from Gary to Michigan City. Currently, when commuter trains traveling in opposite directions meet on that 14.2-mile stretch of track, one must pull to a siding and wait for the other train to pass before continuing.

Officials say double-tracking would speed transit to and from high-wage jobs in Chicago. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority requested $42 million over two years from Regional Cities to help cover the $114 million estimated cost of the second track.

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