A group of state lawmakers dreaming of bringing a professional sports team to northwest Indiana is pushing a bill that would create a panel tasked with pursuing that goal.
Rep. Donna Harris, D-East Chicago, said her bill would create a 19-member panel staffed with local officials who would devise a plan to bring a pro sports team to the heavily populated region.
Harris is the widow of state Rep. Earl Harris, who died last spring and had long dreamed of bringing an National Football League team to the area, which already has the Chicago Bears nearby as well as the downstate Indianapolis Colts.
She said a professional sports team would help bring jobs to the area.
"I'm not willing to give up. This is a dream my husband had," Harris told the Post-Tribune of Merrillville.
Her proposed legislation already has bipartisan support, with state Reps. Hal Slager, R-Schererville; Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, and John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, co-authoring the bill.
Moseley said the bill, which lawmakers will consider when their session begins in January, is a chance for northwestern Indiana to make a big push and demonstrate "the collective will to make it happen."
Harris' bill calls for the creation of the Northwest Indiana Professional Sports Development Commission, which would include the mayors of East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Michigan City, LaPorte, Portage and South Bend.
The group, which would also include officials from Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties, and state representatives, would be tasked with creating a master plan to bring a team to the region, including financing and building a stadium.
Some local officials tried to lure the Bears to Lake County at a new stadium in the mid-1990s, but county officials rejected a proposed county option income tax.
Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said that if the rivalry-filled region were to work together and "get beyond the ZIP code war, we could achieve greatness."