RDA director: Finite window open for projects

2011-11-30T17:00:00Z 2011-12-05T10:25:22Z RDA director: Finite window open for projectsBy Bowdeya Tweh bowdeya.tweh@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

EAST CHICAGO | The projects the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is supporting portend to have great benefits for the region.

But RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna said Wednesday political gridlock and a lack of fortitude and leadership has the ability to ground some economic development opportunities.

At a Gary and Region Investment Project event at the East Chicago Marina, Hanna said he hopes the window for the six-year-old RDA doesn't close before capturing benefits from Lake Michigan shoreline redevelopment and expanding the runway at Gary/Chicago International Airport.

"We're getting interest from investors that wouldn't pick up the phone and call us five years ago," Hanna said.

While at the marina, Hanna pointed to the five active shoreline developments projects and the completed Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The RDA has committed $118.2 million on Lake Michigan shoreline projects, of which it had spent $33.4 million as of this summer.

As of this summer, the RDA had committed or projected to spend $211.8 million for projects, which also includes the Regional Bus Authority and ChicaGo Dash, the South Shore commuter railroad and other projects.

"This next year really is going to be a banner year for us," Hanna said.

Hanna said he's proud of the construction work going on at the Gary airport. But the collateral damage from the airport expansion work not being complete led to Allegiant Air deciding against locating at the airport earlier this year.

Hanna said once the expansion is complete, there will be opportunities for other airlines and said he would bet Allegiant would reconsider its decision.

Hanna also called for a permanent funding source to support bus service in the area and said the bus and train systems can't be allowed to collapse. He said it's important to maintain transportation and economic connectivity with Chicago.

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