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RDA gives grants to Portage, Merrillville and Gary

Updated: January 23, 2012 4:16AM



The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is considering a $1.98 million grant request from Portage to, in part, design a network of trails meant to strategically connect areas near the lakeshore.

The project, touted as an extension of the Portage Lakefront Park and Riverwalk, is expected to link trails in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties and aid in the development of the Ameriplex and Northside Business Park, according to the grant request.

“Much work needs to be accomplished,” said Portage Mayor Olga Velazquez at Tuesday’s RDA Board of Directors meeting, “and we’re looking for opportunities to enhance the economic development opportunities.”

In addition, the grant request would help fund the designs of an extension of the riverwalk to make access more pedestrian friendly and a pedestrian bridge over a channel south of the park.

RDA board members also ratified giving a total of $6 million to two previously announced economic development projects in Gary and Merrillville. Some $4 million will go toward building a water filtration plant for Canadian National’s Kirk Yard redevelopment in Gary. The remaining $2 million will go to Merrillville for the new Modern Forge facility, but the use of those funds is still being determined.

RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna said, in both cases, the grants bridged the funding gaps necessary to bring the projects to Northwest Indiana.

Hanna said the grants would go directly to the municipalities. The RDA is allowed to give up to $6 million a year to projects facilitated by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

“These are long-term, full-time employment opportunities with very reputable companies,” Hanna said.

As board members discussed upcoming projects, several representatives from the faith-based Northwest Indiana Federation in attendance at the meeting pushed the RDA to adopt a local jobs agreement.

The Federation wants the RDA to guarantee a certain percentage of workers’ hours paid on jobs receiving the organization’s funding come from the employment of those living in “the most disparaged communities” in the region.

Hanna explained that the RDA is currently gathering jobs data and studying the situation.

“The time is ripe for a mutual jobs agreement,” Federation member the Rev. Asher Harris said. “You wisely did away with local city agreements. We do need one that is regional. We need one standard agreement that would be a blessing to all.”



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