The state Senate Appropriations Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would give the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority the ability to create a private entity that would take the reins in guiding development in the transit development districts being created around commuter railroad stations.

The districts, or TDDs, will cover one-half mile, expandable to one mile, at train stations along the existing South Shore and the West Lake Corridor extension. In the districts, the growth in local income and property taxes will be collected to provide assistance to developers.

The bill would allow creation of a local development entity that would engage directly with private companies with interest in financing and performing development projects, and to "solicit and accept private or public funding" to further development in the TDDs.

Northwest Indiana RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna told the Appropriations Committee that the bill would allow marketing efforts and negotiations to occur in a manner developers are accustomed to elsewhere, and would allow quicker action on property acquisition.

"We're trying to mimic models that have worked nationwide," Hanna said, including in Cincinnati, Denver, Washington and other cities, where private nonprofits have helped spur major revitalization efforts. "It just expands our ability to function properly in the market."

House  Bill 1279 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/house/1279), sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, passed the House 96-0. The Senate Appropriations Committee gave its approval to an amended version Thursday morning by a 10-2 vote, including a "no" vote from Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who expressed anger at what she considers a lack of explanation regarding the law.

"I have 50 questions that should've been answered before today," she said, particularly questioning why the new entity needed to be created rather than having the RDA, a public agency, directly handling market engagement.

The committee chairman, Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, said he viewed the bill as creating a streamlined process to connect the various entities involved in the transit-oriented development process — "to connect all these dots to get this done."

The bill has been amended from its original form to, among other things, add authorization for the South Bend-based North Central Indiana Regional Development Authority to create its own development entity, remove a section expanding the Northwest Indiana RDA board, and tighten the focus of the development entities on TDDs.

The Senate committee agreed to a meeting among legislators representing the areas impacted by the bill, which will be available for amendment in the full Senate and for a final vote next week. If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb, it would take effect July 1.
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