As part of his Next Level Agenda, Gov. Eric Holcomb is calling on the Indiana General Assembly to provide $500 million in new funding for the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI. Communities all over the state are seeing the impact of the first round of funding, including west central Indiana. The Wabash River RDA, which spans six counties, received $20 million in READI funds in late 2021, and Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett calls the funding critical for the region.
Bennett and Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb discussed the program’s impact in an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick.
“READI [1.0] kind of opened the eyes of a lot of folks about, ‘What are these projects? What are going to bring people to our community or keep people in our community?’ So, I think that was the main focus, those quality-of-life initiatives,” said Bennett. “Now, with READI [2.0] coming, obviously they feel like the first one was successful. How do we continue to build upon that?”
Among the projects in Terre Haute receiving READI funding include an outdoor space at the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, which has an estimated $800,000 price tag, according to the RDA’s regional development plan.
Bennett said the project fits right into the quality-of-life focus.
“People come from all over the region and elsewhere just to visit the children’s museum,” he said. “So, an expansion of that is only logical that you keep doing the good things and then find the other little niches.”
The city is also using $500,000 in READI funds to establish a West Central Business Hub inside the former Hulman & Co. building in the downtown area.
The first two floors of the 130-year-old, seven-floor building will house the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., the Launch Terre Haute coworking space, Terre Haute Redevelopment Department, Terre Haute Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Western Indiana Workforce Investment Board Inc.
Plans for the remaining floors are still being developed, but Gibson Development Inc. Executive Vice President Brian Kooistra told Inside INdiana Business in December additional office and residential space is on the table.
READI funding could also potentially be used for a parking garage near the new Terre Haute Convention Center that would be constructed in conjunction with two new hotels.
Smaller communities like the Sullivan are also reaping the benefits of READI.
The city, located about 30 minutes south of Terre Haute, is receiving grants totaling about $4 million for projects such as a new central plaza, a hotel next to the city’s new civic center, a new city pool, and new housing, including 40 new townhomes, duplexes and single-family homes.
Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said the funding is a game-changer for communities like his.
“You’re talking about communities for many, many years that have been told that they’ve been forgotten or they’ve been told that they’ve been left behind,” said Lamb. “One of the biggest challenges isn’t budgeting. It’s not state funding formulas or fighting with the legislature. It is the apathetic nature of a lot of these rural communities, and to see this type of investment, it’s unheard of.”
Bennett said without the READI program, the projects now in the works simply wouldn’t be possible.
“The tax caps really put us all in a bad spot. There’s no new revenues coming in, per se, and so to get this influx of dollars that are targeted just to those things to make your community a better place, that’s what we’ve always needed. Now, having a second round makes you feel good about we’ve done so far but what every other community’s done to make Indiana stand out and be a better place, enticing those to come here.”