RDA will have busiest year ever, director says
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent January 10, 2012 4:56PM
Updated: February 12, 2012 8:13AM
CROWN POINT — This will be the busiest year yet for the Regional Development Authority, with most of its projects either nearing completion, at their height of development or just beginning, its executive director told Winfield/LOFS Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday.
“We have committed more than $200 million to make all these projects happen,” said RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna, who was the speaker at the chamber’s monthly meeting at Geisen Funeral Home in Crown Point.
He said most of the money comes from government funds and private business investment. Total cost for all the projects under way or just completed comes to just under $512 million.
Hanna told chamber members that the RDA has invested more than $22 million for the Whiting Lakefront project, turning it into a beach community, and more than $28 million for the Gary East Marquette Park plan, which he said will recapture Lake Michigan shoreline for public access.
The largest portion of its total investment — $50.3 million — went to the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
“This has the most potential to create jobs in Northwest Indiana. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we’ve had a lot of difficulty moving tracks for three railroads. There is a lot involved,” Hanna said.
He said the tracks need to be moved to expand the runway there.
“The project is still on schedule and it’s moving forward,” he said.
Money is also going to railroad cars, the Regional Bus Authority, the town of Porter and some smaller projects. Hanna said the new Portage Park was just completed near Midwest Steel for a total cost of $16 million, $10 million of which came from the RDA.
“I wondered if anyone would want to lay on a beach blanket next to a mill. It turns out people do. More than 150,000 people visited Portage Park last year,” he said.
The RDA also contributed $2 million to bring Modern Forge Cos. and its 250 jobs to Merrillville. He said it would continue to make these economic development contributions.
The agency covers Lake and Porter counties and was established in 2005 by the Indiana General Assembly, which wanted to know why Northwest Indiana was lagging compared to the remainder of the state.
“We wanted to reverse the trend. We have some of the best assets, but they were under performing,” Hanna said. “Our bus system was fragmented, we had a shoreline with retracting industry. Buildings were still there; they weren’t producing jobs but were occupying shoreline property.”