24 Feb 2017

House approves South Shore development financing plan

South Shore News

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana House overwhelmingly approved Thursday a first-of-its-kind plan for coordinated transit-oriented development near stations along the current and future routes of the South Shore Line.

House Bill 1144, which now goes to the Senate, puts the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority in charge of promoting and managing commercial and residential investment within Transit Development Districts, or TDD for short, centered on at least eight rail stops. State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, the sponsor, said allowing the RDA to use increment financing to develop areas within a mile of the stations will ensure the Region and state get the biggest possible bang for their bucks spent to double-track the South Shore between Gary and Michigan City and extend the commuter rail line from Hammond to Dyer.

 "It's a big project. It's an important project for the people of Indiana," Slager said. "It's probably the largest economic development project we've got in the state of Indiana short of building $1.2 billion worth of roads every year." The legislation authorizes the RDA to borrow funds to speed construction of TDD property improvements that still would be subject to municipal planning and zoning ordinances. Growth in local property and income tax revenues within each TDD would be used to repay the transit-oriented development debt. The RDA's planning consultant, Indianapolis-based Policy Analytics Inc., estimates the local tax revenue growth available for development spending in Lake and Porter counties will total $456.2 million over a 20-year period.

 Slager said ancillary development in Northwest Indiana spurred by TDD projects and rail improvements that better connect Region workers to high-paying Chicago jobs will generate more than $3 billion in the next two decades. "Everybody is really in favor of this project because it has such a dramatic impact on everyone," Slager said. The proposal does not currently extend the TDD opportunity to South Shore stations in LaPorte and St. Joseph counties because they have not joined Lake and Porter counties in the RDA. However, Slager stood at the front of the House chamber and promised House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, that he will work with senators to ensure the measure is revised so every community with a South Shore stop ultimately can take advantage of the development opportunity.

"We're interested in having a big tent," Slager said. "We'll work on something, come up with options and we'll work on it together." That pledge wasn't good enough for some South Bend Democrats, and their allies, who voted against the legislation in retaliation for Slager killing off Wednesday what he said was a "premature" attempt to include St. Joseph County in the plan. Nevertheless, it easily passed the House, 84-8.

Article by Dan Carden - NWI Times. Click here to see the article on NWI Times.