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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 4:55 pm

Area's Regional Cities proposal among top 3

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The group tasked with recommending which areas of the state get to split $84 million agreed Thursday that three applications stand out – and one is the 11-county northeast Indiana effort.

The question now is whether the Regional Cities Strategic Review Committee will further narrow it to two winners, as anticipated by Gov. Mike Pence’s administration and by lawmakers who passed the initiative.

Committee member Chris LaMothe of Elevate Ventures said a number of projects are compelling, and it might be best to split the cash three ways to get more momentum going around the state. Former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith also seemed interested in spreading the money among more proposals. 

Indiana Economic Development Corp. President Jim Schellinger said nothing in law prohibits picking more than two recipients, but that wasn’t the expectation.

A final recommendation from the committee will come Dec. 15, and the Indiana Economic Development board of trustees will make the official decision that day, as well.

But the review committee that has been poring over the seven applications for weeks came to a consensus that the Fort Wayne, Evansville and South Bend regions had the best proposals.

That leaves central and northwest Indiana – both with major transit projects – as well as the East Central and Wabash River regions likely out of the running.

The Regional Cities Initiative was designed by Pence to fast-track bold projects that improve quality of life, making regions more dynamic and attractive to talented young workers. 

The seven submissions include more than 400 cultural and livability projects that would cost about $3.8 billion. Northeast Indiana’s proposal includes 70 projects across the 11-county area over the next decade. The biggest project is a $72.5 million regional trail network that would connect the counties.

The region’s proposal also includes a significant riverfront development in Fort Wayne. Committee member Mitch Roob said the proposal to reorient downtown to feature river development is bold.

"It is a vibrant place to do business," he said, noting that the counties are also trying to make it a vibrant place to live.

John Sampson, president of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said the regional trails connect the other counties to the riverfront development.

"It’s absolutely feasible and viable to make it a place for people to come together," he said, acknowledging that the trail portion is not a job producer.

LaMothe was impressed with northeast Indiana’s plan and the regional collaboration that has already been occurring the past 10 years.

"What has been accomplished in that region is real­ly remarkable," LaMothe said. "I came away saying they get quality of place and how important it is for talent attraction."