SOUTHERN INDIANA — Community leaders from Clark and Floyd counties are working together to obtain up to $1 billion up for grabs among municipalities across the state.

The state grant funding, if awarded to his area, will go toward projects to “enhance and build dynamic public spaces to attract families, companies and individuals around the country to live and work in their region,” according to officials with One Southern Indiana, an economic development organization that serves area communities.

1si announced Wednesday the creation of Regional Cities Initiative Steering Committee, a group of Clark and Floyd county officials tasked with proposing a regional plan that the grant monies would fund over an eight-year period.

The steering committee is comprised of 16 members, including Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore, New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan, Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall and Clarksville Town Council President Bob Polston.

COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT

The plan introduced by area officials will be in competition with other municipalities, or groups of municipalities, vying for the same dollars.

“In order to compete with larger metropolitan areas such as Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville, it is imperative that communities within Clark and Floyd counties work together now,” 1si President Wendy Dant Chesser said in a news release. “This is an incredible opportunity to fund a variety of projects that could significantly enhance Southern Indiana’s appeal to businesses, professionals and families, as well as provide new opportunities and services to current residents.”

1si reports that Indiana Economic Development Corp. will seek legislation during the legislative session beginning Jan. 6 to create the Regional Cities Initiative.

The initiative will allow the State of Indiana to be a financial partner with regions that “develop a strong vision, plan and partnership to facilitate significant investment in the region,” according to 1si. “Up to eight cities or regions in the state will be chosen to receive funding based upon a variety of factors, including proposed transformational projects focused on enhancing quality of place.”

State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said it is too early to say how exactly the funding request will unfold in the legislature, as the start the legislative session is still nearly a month away, but he is hopeful Clark and Floyd counties will be joint recipients of the funding.

He said it is important that community leaders, including area legislators, weigh in with their support of the area’s application for the funding throughout the process.

“The local officials have critical role in this, and I plan to support their efforts,” Clere said.

He said that it is his understanding that legislators will work to designate the funding and that IEDC will be a major factor in selecting which communities receive the funding.

Moore said he is “extremely excited about the opportunity” and is already considering how the funds could be used in Jeffersonville.

He is pushing the construction of a 23-mile bike and pedestrian loop that surrounds the city.

“Bringing the entire city into the project is something I very much want to push for,” Moore said. “And, that falls right into the category of ... creating a quality of life issue.”

Now that the downtown area has received many improvements, Moore said he is encouraged to direct the funding to the eastern section of Jeffersonville.

“We have got a big east-end bridge [under construction] that is creating a whole new economic boom for the city near River Ridge and the surrounding subdivisions,” Moore said. “I would like to see a strong emphasis on more issues and concerns the east end of the city would have.”

He said the eventual awarding of the funds will be an “extremely competitive” selection process, but he is confident Gov. Mike Pence and state officials recognize that funding of new projects will enhance the area’s potential to continue attracting businesses, families and sources of revenue.

While Hall typically works toward improvements in Charlestown, he said it is a rewarding experience to collaborate with officials in the region in attempt to obtain the grant funding.

“It is an incredible opportunity the state is offering for communities that rise up to the challenge and put a good plan together,” Hall said. “To have the opportunity to have as much as $1 billion worth of investment in the community is probably a once-in-a-lifetime-type of opportunity for the area.

State Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, said, like Clere, that he will work during the upcoming legislative session to have the funding allotted to the area.

“Southeast Indiana is really the driving engine right now in the state,” he said. “We are positioned better than any other region in the state for such an investment as what this program is trying to do, and that is to really infuse capital into regions of the state that have the most promise to have a higher return on that investment.

Stemler said the amount funding allotted throughout the state will be contingent on the continued financial vibrancy of Indiana.

Municipalities across the state are expected to be able to submit applications for the funding beginning in July.

THE LOCAL STRATEGY

The project will include four phases, according to the news release. The first, which was completed last month, was presented to the steering committee by Aaron Renn, President of Urbanophile, an opinion-leading urban affairs consultant. Renn’s analysis of the Southern Indiana region included demographic advantages and challenges, a comparison with benchmark communities, and potential “game-changing” projects for the region.

Several factors mark Southern Indiana as a regional hub, including being a part of the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area, the advantage of having four separate community teams with the power to act on projects, maximizing the benefits of the Ohio River Bridges Project including the Big Four Bridge — a pedestrian and bike crossing over the Ohio River — and the creation and growth of River Ridge Commerce Center.

Phase II will include contracting with an urban planning firm to develop a complete World-Class Communities plan for the participating communities. The state has provided a list of recommended firms from which to choose the most qualified for our community’s unique characteristics.

Phases III and IV will include working with the State of Indiana for program approval and application preparation.

1si hired OpenWater LLC, a community and economic development consulting company under the direction of Wanda Heath. Working under contract until the project is complete, Heath will make the initiative her priority, organizing community input forums, tasks and managing deadlines.

Funding for these phases is being provided by the Paul Ogle Foundation.

“This is an investment in the future of Southern Indiana and its citizens, touching two of our four key areas of interest — promoting economic prosperity and fostering regional cooperation,” said Kent Lanum, President and CEO of the foundation. “It is the type of project for which the Ogle Foundation was created and we are proud to be a part of it.”

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