GREENSBURG – Greensburg Mayor Gary Herbert said he would push hard this year to make progress on economic development initiatives, especially the $9.9 million construction of Veteran’s Way and the $16 million expansion of the Greensburg Municipal Airport.
Herbert said Thursday afternoon that his goals for 2014 relate primarily to helping existing businesses, attracting new business, expanding the tax base and bringing new jobs to the community.
The airport expansion, which would include expanding the runway to 5,405 feet, up from 3,600 feet today, would give local businesses better options for shipping their products and receiving raw materials, he said. It also would support more passenger planes.
“We want to give industry and other businesses opportunities with an expanded airport,” Herbert said.
The airport would pay about 7.5 percent of the project’s $16 million price tag (or $1.2 million), with the state kicking in 2.5 percent ($400,000), and the federal government providing the bulk of the cost ($14.4 million). The airport would pay for its portion through money it has gained through airport operations, including fuel sales and hangar rentals.
Herbert said that some hurdles remain, including a federal environmental impact report and land owners unwilling to part with their property.
He said the Federal Aviation Administration still needs to complete its environmental impact study, on which the city has been waiting for a long time. Herbert said he would hand a letter to U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville, on Tuesday, to encourage him to pressure the FAA to finish its report so that the city can pursue the airport expansion. Messer is scheduled to visit Storie’s Restaurant from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Herbert also said that he understands that some land owners do not want to sell the properties the city has deemed as necessary for the expansion. Some of those properties have been in the hands of those families for a long time, he said, but the airport expansion is a critical piece of the local economic development puzzle. If the city cannot find a workable solution with the owners, Herbert said, it may have to make use of eminent domain and to try to have courts force the owners to sell.
“Maximum a year and a half before we start breaking ground,” he said.
Herbert said that he also views another of his goals for 2014, the construction of Veteran’s Way, through the lens of economic development. The road, whose $9.9 million cost for Phase 1 would be paid through Tax Increment Financing revenues, would provide access to much needed commercial properties on the city’s north side. A portion of property taxes from new development in a specific area, the Tax Increment Financing District, must be reinvested within that district. TIF revenues usually are used for infrastructure improvements, such as road construction. Municipalities use TIFs to try to encourage economic development. The goal is to expand the tax base, use some of that growth to improve the district to foster further growth, and, once the TIF expires — usually after 25 or 30 years — all taxing units, including schools, the county and the city, see a significant jump in property tax revenues.
Veteran’s Way would include a roundabout and run south of and primarily parallel to Interstate 74. It would connect the Hampton Inn, on the west side, with the area near Burger King and MainSource Bank in the east. Herbert said the city has secured verbal agreements from property owners for 80 percent of Phase 1 to give to the city a stretch wide enough for a two-lane road, with a possible third lane to be added later. Herbert said he hopes that Phases 2 and 3 would be paid primarily through federal funds. City officials will meet with Indiana Department of Transportation officials Tuesday to discuss the project.
Herbert and City Engineer Gary Murray said that the lack of commercial property already has hampered economic growth. Murray said a medical facility had inquired about property just south of the Interstate, but lost interest in part because of the lack of infrastructure, including roads, water and sewer lines.
“These are things we need to be prepared for,” Herbert said. “It’s always better to make something happen than to wait for it.”
Herbert said he is trying to promote the community also to attract some of the restaurants — Cracker Barrel, Applebee’s, Skyline Chili — that people would like to see locally, and that other nearby communities, including Batesville and Shelbyville, already have successfully recruited.
The mayor’s other major goals for 2013:
Widening Vandalia Road. Herbert and Murray said the project primarily would improve safety, because the road’s width and amount and type of traffic near commercial properties and housing additions, and drainage issues, have caused city officials some concerns. Herbert said 80 percent of the $1.4 million project would be paid with federal funds, with the local portion to be paid with the city’s portion of the Economic Development Income Tax. The mayor said he hopes to complete the project this year, but it might not get finished until 2015.
A roughly quarter mile, $200,000 expansion of the walking and bike trail to promote walking and biking to work. Murray said the city would reapply this year for a Department of Natural Resources grant. The city’s application last year was denied. “It’s a quality of life issue,” Murray said.
Supporting Greensburg Community Schools’ efforts to provide more skills education. The school corporation plans to build a 10,000-square-foot addition on the high school’s east side to enhance training for skills such as machining, welding and HVAC. Superintendent Tom Hunter said construction is expected to begin this spring, with completion in time for the 2014/2015 school year. The $2 million addition and a renovation of 6,000 square feet in the high school are being paid through a bond issue. Hunter said schools are working closely with local industry to make sure the curriculum matches the needs of local employers. Herbert said he hopes that the addition eventually be used at night to train or retrain adults to address some local businesses’ struggles to find enough qualified employees. Herbert said the city/county will have to fill at least 500 new jobs in the next two years — at companies including Hitachi Powdered Metals, Valeo Engine Cooling, Gecom Corp. and Delta Faucet — and additional education would allow the city to provide more skilled workers to local employers — and more opportunities for local residents.