EAST CHICAGO - A state representative from northwest Indiana is pushing for the creation of a commission to develop a master plan aimed at drawing a National Football League franchise to the region. Donna Harris (D-2) says an NFL team or a franchise from another professional sports league would be a "natural fit." She says, despite the region's proximity to Chicago and Indianapolis, which each feature multiple pro teams, other NFL franchises are just as close together.

Harris succeeded her husband, Earl,  in the seat following his death late last session. Earl Harris was first elected to the House in 1982 and championed the concept of bringing a pro football to northwest Indiana. Donna says she is carrying out his mission.

Harris says the commission would be made up of leaders from communities including East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Michigan City, La Porte, Portage and South Bend, plus Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties and representatives from the state. She tells Inside INdiana Business a team would boost the economy and quality of life in the region and serve as a way to attract and retain talent. Harris says professional sports would help keep educated young people "at home," instead of moving to Chicago. "It would also be a great way to bring cities of northwest Indiana together. She calls the study "just a first step."

House Bill 1016 is authored by Harris and calls for the creation of the 19-member Northwest Indiana Professional Sports Development Commission. It is co-authored by Hal Slager, John Bartlett and Chuck Moseley and would include details on financing facilities and infrastructure related to one or more new pro franchises.

Harris says "I know that Earl had a dream that bringing the NFL to Northwest Indiana would be a centerpiece to improving the economic development opportunities for our part of the state, and I believe that dream is worth pursuing. It's important to note that this commission would also explore the possibilities of attracting franchises affiliated with Major League Baseball, the NBA, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer." She adds "I'm sure there are those who feel the ambitions contained in this bill are unrealistic, but I believe that those of us who feel that Northwest Indiana offers unlimited potential should pursue any and all chances to improve the lives of the people who live and work in the region."