Gary Airport Celebrates New Runway


This picture from the runway dedication program shows the old runway (left) and the new extension.

The Gary/Chicago International Airport formally opened its new, 8,900-foot runway to the applause of hundreds gathered below skies crowded with jets and planes practicing for the upcoming Gary Air Show. Airport Interim Director Dan Vicari called the new runway a game-changer for Northwest Indiana and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson predicted that it would benefit the entire region

The project was started in 2006 but only proceeded by fits and starts until about two years ago. It had an estimated cost of $90 million in 2006 that swelled to an actual cost of $174 million by the project’s end.

Gary and region officials hope the opening of the expanded runway marks the beginning of a new era for Gary, as they craft other economic development projects such as a nearby Buffington Harbor industrial park.

An analysis conducted by the RDA in 2012 projects that the expanded airport will help create more than 2,000 new jobs in the region by 2025 and increase personal income by an estimate $156 million annually. Its impact was already being felt in the days leading up to the runway dedication ceremony with the announcement of two fresh private investments in the footprint of the airport.

First, Carmeuse Lime & Stone broke ground on a new rail terminal, part of a $31 million package of investments that include a new waste-to-energy facility. The company plans to add 30 to 40 jobs as a result of the expansion. Just hours after the groundbreaking, Mayor Freeman-Wilson unveiled a partnership with Terre Haute-based Garmong Construction Services to develop an 85-acre industrial park at the airport.

Both projects are being supported by a $7.5 million grant from the RDA. This grant matches funding from the City of Gary and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to pay for $13.5 million in access road improvements to the sites of Carmeuse Lime and the new industrial park. The RDA is committed to helping the airport and city attract more jobs and investment to the region.

We Need Your Help!

Residents of Lake, Porter and La Porte counties are being asked to weigh in on transit-oriented development (TOD) and service improvements on the South Shore commuter rail line. The online survey is part of an effort by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) to secure Regional Cities funding for TOD and other projects on the South Shore main line.

Encouraging development around existing transit service by both the public and private sectors can improve the entire regional economy by raising incomes and property values.

Please take a few minutes to complete our survey. Please feel free to skip any questions that you do not feel comfortable answering. This survey and the result are confidential and will be used as part of the application for funding for our area.

RDA Board Approves $13.5 Million in Grants and Loans

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority today approved roughly $13.5 million in matching grants and loans to support more than $160 million in infrastructure and economic development projects in Northwest Indiana.

“We’ve had some things on hold since the beginning of the year,” says RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “There were significant questions about our future funding going into the last session of the General Assembly and the board thought it best to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude before committing to anything beyond what we had already committed to. Now that the RDA has received fresh funding and direction from the legislature, we want to move forward as expeditiously as possible so these projects can get started and begin delivering benefits to the region.”

Actions taken today by the RDA Board include:

Φ Approval of a $7.456 million matching grant for the City of Gary for access road improvements at Buffington Harbor. This grant is contingent on final funding commitments from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), which has pledged $2.3 million, and Gary, which has promised a $3.5 million contribution.

This project will expand the newly constructed Gary Marina Access Road (Buffington Harbor Drive) to include an additional travel lane that provides directs access to industrial sites near the Gary/Chicago International Airport and the lakefront from Cline Avenue. This will allow industrial traffic to be separated from Majestic Star Casino traffic and enhance economic development efforts at the airport.

Φ Authorized use of the RDA’s No Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program (a.k.a. the Deal-Closing Fund) for two pending economic development projects in Northwest Indiana. The RDA agreed to provide:

$2.5 million to support a potential $110 million investment in Hobart that would create approximately 600 full and part-time jobs, and

$3.5 million for a proposed $35.6 million investment in East Chicago that would relocate about 250 jobs to the region and create an additional 100 new jobs over the next three years.

Ongoing negotiations between the companies involved, the IEDC and local officials preclude releasing further details of these projects at this time. RDA funds will only be used if the projects are finalized. These projects represent the final uses of the No Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program, which permanently sunsets July 1 by order of the Indiana General Assembly.

Φ Agreed to partner with Purdue and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) to pursue federal funds under the new NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grants Program. The RDA will provide $150,000, and Purdue and NIRPC $50,000 each, to access $500,000 in additional federal funding under the program.

The coastal resilience grants program will support regional (Lake, Porter and La Porte counties) approaches to activities that build resilience of coastal regions, communities, and economic sectors to the negative impacts from extreme weather events, climate hazards, changing lakefront conditions, and the vulnerability/climate protection of the South Shore train and Gary Airport.

Φ Approved the first loan from the Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund in the amount of $400,000 for the City of Gary for asbestos abatement at the Ambassador Apartments. Part of a $1.7 million demolition project, this effort will transform a dangerous, abandoned apartment building in the Horace Mann neighborhood into a vibrant green space with mixed-use development potential. The projects planned completion date is February 2016.

The loan fund is managed by the Northwest Indiana Brownfield Coalition (NWIBC). The Coalition and Loan Committee include the cities of East Chicago, Hammond, Gary, and also NIRPC, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the RDA. The NWIBC Loan Committee, on June 12, voted to approve the application. The loan term is five years with 0% interest charged as long as the loan is fully repaid within that time.

Φ Finally, the Board of Directors approved an amount not to exceed $450,000 to update the RDA’s Comprehensive Strategic Plan as required by legislation passed in the 2015 Indiana General Assembly. The update is a prerequisite to RDA receiving $6 million annuaLlY from the state for construction of the West Lake Corridor.

Because of this need to closely integrate the planning of transit-oriented development (TOD) side-by-side with the planning of rail construction and financing, the update will include both the West Lake and TOD planning elements. The update, to be done by Policy Analytics, LLC and American Structurepoint, will be completed by April 2016.

Rail Expansion a Game-Changer for Northwest Indiana

RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna recently sat down with Inside Indiana Businesses’ Gerry Dick to talk about South Shore expansion.

Passage of legislation that provides $6 million a year for 30 years to expand commuter rail is “hugely significant for us,” Hanna said. “It puts us on parity with Illinois suburbs and will help us reestablish the middle class in Northwest Indiana.” Watch the whole thing here.

After Bill’s segment, IIB’s panel of experts also discussed rail expansion’s impact, calling it a “huge regional economic development success” for NWI. You can watch their conversation here.

Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore commuter rail line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash service. Commuters who use these services every day to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. The West Lake Corridor expansion will result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

RDA Partners With Gary, NICTD on TIGER Grant

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) today agreed to join with the City of Gary and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) in applying for a federal grant to fund transit-oriented development (TOD) at and around the South Shore station in Gary’s Miller neighborhood.

Gary is applying for a $21.05 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transit Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, competitive grant program. Gary, NICTD and the RDA are pooling resources to provide the necessary local match for the grant application. NICTD is providing $860,000, Gary $1 million and the RDA $4.26 million.

If awarded the grant, the funds will be used for improvements at the Miller station, including the new high-level boarding platform called for in the NICTD 20-Year Strategic Business Plan jointly developed by the railroad and the RDA.

At today’s RDA Board meeting, the Board also accepted for review a request from Gary for a $7.5 million RDA grant to improve the access road at Buffington Harbor. If the grant is approved, these funds would be combined with investments from the City of Gary, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to complete the $14 million project. The project would separate industrial and casino traffic at Buffington Harbor and provide increased access to industrial sites near the newly expanded Gary/Chicago International Airport.

Finally, the Board directed the RDA’s fiscal task force to oversee the closing out of the RDA’s No-Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program (formerly known as the Deal-Closing Fund). Changes made to the RDA’s enabling legislation in the last session of the General Assembly removed the authorization for this form of economic development from the RDA’s mission. The new law takes effect July 1, and the No-Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program will sunset at that point.

In housekeeping details, the Board held its annual election of new officers. State of Indiana appointee Don Fesko was re-elected as Chairman; State of Indiana appointee Harley Snyder was re-elected as Vice-Chairman; and Gary appointee Bill Joiner was re-elected as Treasurer. New Porter County appointee Chris Campbell was also formally sworn in.

Indiana Invests in South Shore Expansion

The Indiana General Assembly approved, and Gov. Mike Pence subsequently signed, a two-year budget that includes funding to build the West Lake Corridor extension of the South Shore commuter railroad.

The state budget, House Bill 1001, provides $6 million a year for the next 30 years to the RDA to help pay for expansion of the South Shore Line to Dyer.

That money will be combined with local tax revenues in Lake and Porter counties to create the $17.5 million annual match required for the federal government to pay half the cost of the $571 million commuter rail project.

The long-term goal is to rebuild the region’s middle class by better connecting Indiana residents to high-salary jobs in Chicago and getting them to spend their paychecks at home; while at the same time redeveloping housing and businesses along the current and future rail lines geared to the needs of commuters.

The $6 million investment from the state this year comes on the heels of operational funding provided during the 2014 session. Last year, the legislature directed a portion of revenues garnered from closing a tax loophole to the RDA in order to establish an operating fund for trains on the West Lake Corridor. This funding, approximately $4.2 million annually, brings the total amount provided for construction and operation of the expansion to more than $10 million a year.

The RDA would like to thank the many people and organizations who have worked so hard over the past two years to make this investment in Northwest Indiana’s future happen. These include Congressman Pete Visclosky, whose challenge to the region in October of 2013 started this whole ball rolling; all the members of the Northwest Indiana legislative delegation, as well as many legislators from elsewhere around the state who also saw the value of commuter rail expansion; the local officials who took time from their schedules to go to Indianapolis and speak in favor of the project; civic leaders from the Emerging Leaders of Northwest Indiana and One Region; the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), operator of the South Shore; the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC); the Northwest Indiana Forum; and a host of others too numerous to mention.

Thank you all.

New Legislation Sets RDA Priorities

The General Assembly has sent legislation to Governor Mike Pence’s desk that instructs the RDA to focus on shoreline and transportation improvements in Northwest Indiana.

House Bill 1398 (approved 86-0) clarifies the duties of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority by requiring the bi-county agency to focus on improving region transportation and infrastructure and implementing the Marquette Plan to redevelop the Lake Michigan shoreline.

This legislation also streamlines the RDA’s funding by sending the RDA’s share of casino admissions taxes directly to the RDA. This change will improve our ability to issue bonds to cover the costs of South Shore commuter rail expansion in Northwest Indiana.

Investments by the RDA since 2006 have had a cumulative economic impact of more than $1.1 billion, according to a study conducted by an independent economic research firm. By 2025, the RDA’s investments are projected to generate $770 million in economic output annually (in 2012 dollars). This increased economic output in 2025 will support approximately 4,000 jobs in the Lake and Porter County region. More than 2,000 of these jobs will be supported by industrial and commercial investment in and around the airport. The increase in economic activity and employment will increase personal income in Northwest Indiana by an estimated $383 million annually.

Indiana Senate Invests in South Shore Expansion

The Senate Appropriations Committee today approved funding to upgrade and expand South Shore commuter rail in Northwest Indiana. While there are still several weeks of conference committees and conversations to go, the initial approval of state participation in the project is a major step forward. To all our legislators, friends and supporters who have worked so hard to get the region to this point, thank you very much.

As currently written, the State of Indiana would invest $6 million annually over the next 30 years to fund construction of the West Lake Corridor.

If enacted into law, the state money and locally-generated RDA funds, along with income tax revenue contributed by region communities, will create the $17.5 million annual local match required for the federal government to pay half the cost of the $571 million commuter rail project.

“I am extremely pleased that Senator Kenley and the Appropriations Committee have recognized the value of this project, not only for Northwest Indiana but for the state,” said state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. “It’s clearly an investment for the state that is going to reap benefits well into the future.”

Currently, commuters who use the existing South Shore line and ChicaGo Dash buses to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. Building the West Lake Corridor would result in an an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

The benefits of expanded connectivity to Chicago will flow throughout the region. A 2013 study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors found that residential home sale prices were on average 42% higher during the Great Recession in neighborhoods with proximity to transit versus further away.

Specific to Chicago, the study found that the average sale price of a residential property in the transit shed outperformed the overall market by about 30%. The study also found that those living close to transit options spent less on transportation, and had access to twice as many jobs, as those living outside the reach of transit.

Stronger commuter links to Chicago will also help attract new companies and new jobs to Northwest Indiana. Today, the region lags behind the rest of the Chicago market in terms of attracting new business investment. Last year, just 19 of more than 600 deals in the metro area were done in Lake and Porter counties. More commuting options will make us a more attractive and competitive region in which to start or relocate a business.