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Law would allow RDA to streamline development activities
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Law would allow RDA to streamline development activities

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South Shore double-tracking project

The State Legislature is considering a bill that would expand the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority's economic development capabilities.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority will have the power to create a subsidiary agency that it hopes will enhance its ability to encourage development around commuter rail stations, if a bill approved Wednesday in Indianapolis by the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee becomes law.

House Bill 1279, authored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, would give the RDA authority to create a "nonprofit entity" that could "solicit and accept private or public funding" to help carry out the RDA's mission to spur projects in the Transit Development Districts being created in anticipation of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's Double Track and West Lake Corridor projects.

The Transit Development Districts, or TDDs, will cover as much as one square mile around train stations, and collect the growth in local property and income taxes that new development within them creates. Anticipated incremental tax revenue would be leveraged to provide up-front assistance to developers, similar to the way Tax Increment Financing districts work.

"We need to find a mechanism to hold pieces of property, that are probably in blighted areas, that need to be developed," Soliday told the committee.

The new entity would have the capability to negotiate directly with property owners and developers more quickly and discreetly than the RDA, which "is not well-positioned to do that," RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna told the committee. "We're concerned that the market outpaces our governmental agency," he said, potentially impacting the availability and pricing of land in the TDDs.

The new entity would also have the ability to take in other public and private money available to support revitalization, and to offer incentives to developers the RDA can't currently, Hanna said.

He said the new corporate body would be similar to ones used in Cincinnati, Denver and other metropolitan areas. "This will give us something more familiar for private investors to deal with," he said.

"We need to find developers to do a deal with us, to generate that (tax revenue) increment," Hanna said.

The new agency would report to the RDA and be audited annually.

House Bill 1279 would also add four members to the seven-member RDA Board of Directors, one each from Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties. The intent is to add representation to the RDA board from LaPorte and St. Joseph counties, which are not members of the RDA but are contributing about $18.25 million each to the Double Track project.

And, the bill would give the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and local authorities the same abilities as the Indiana Department of Transportation to perform environmental assessments on properties intended for purchase to accomodate the rail projects. That would allow testing without the need to open condemnation proceedings in court when property owners don't agree to allow access.

"This will speed up our process, cut down our costs," NICTD representative Mark Palmer told the committee. 

The committee voted 10-1 to move the legislation to the full House, with the committee chairman, Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, and Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, among those voting in the affirmative.

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