FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Northeast Indiana economic leaders want to grow the region to one million people by the year 2031, but the Regional Cities Initiative funding that was helping to reach that goal is running low.
Just over a year ago, the state gave Northeast Indiana $42 million dollars to fuel it’s economy through population growth. The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority has allocated about 80 percent of that, or $33.8 million. The following 16 projects have received funding:
- Skyline Tower
- The Landing
- The Embassy Theatre
- Fort Wayne Regional Trails
- The Clyde Theatre
- Posterity Heights Scholar House
- Trine University
- The DeKalb County YMCA
- Manchester Early Learning Center
- Buffalo Street Redevelopment Project
- South Adams Trails
- The Enterprise Center
- Michiana Event Center
- The United Brethren Block
There are seven remaining projects RDA would like to fund. The biggest are the first phase of the Riverfront Park Development in Fort Wayne, The Eagles Theatre Restoration project in Wabash, and the Wabash River Trail extension. The others are the Russel and Evelyn Fahl Aquatics Facility in Whitley County, Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail in Noble County, Fishing Line Trail in Noble County, and the Kendallville Outdoor Recreation Complex.
The cost of the remaining projects exceeds their budget by about a million dollars, but the Road to One Million Director Michael Galbraith said that won’t stop them from finding a way to fund all the requests.
“They all have merit and they all can contribute to our quality of place and what they’re really doing is they’re galvanizing and serving as a catalyst for our region,” he said. “They’re changing the way people feel about our region. They’re changing the way our reputation is both inside Indiana and outside Indiana and what they’re doing is pushing us forward so we can change how population growth happens in Northeast Indiana.”
Once the region uses up the remaining money, that could be it for its major state grants. The state’s working on a second Regional Cities Initiative, but the current version of the bill says regions that were funded the first time around won’t get funded the second time. So, RDA is looking into other means to continue the fast, economic momentum such as county and city tax-funded initiatives.
Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership CEO and President John Sampson wants to clear up a major misconception about the Regional Cities Initiative money.
“I know everyone’s disappointed that we’re through all that money, but the point is that we’ve got all that money and we’ve put it to work sooner than other places in the state and in the Midwest,” he said. “We need to use this money to leverage speed for population growth. We’ve got to get moving faster.”
He also gave a reminder for the people in the region.
“The objective was not just to invest in quality place assets and then our work is done,” he continued. “Our work now turns to building that national brand identity, doing outreach that shows what kinds of neat things are going on in our region and it’s about talent attraction and population growth.”
Sampson believes they would have found ways to fund these projects without a big state grant and that’s how they’ll operate when this latest grant is finished.
“If we own our future, we can’t be dependent on others to provide for that future,” he said. “So if the state can’t fund us this time or next time or whenever that occurs, we still have to implement strategies that work for us.”
RDA will discuss how they’ll fund the seven remaining projects at their upcoming meetings on March 14 and April 11.