The proposed South Haven Industrial Park at the northwest corner of Indiana 149 and U.S. 6 is zone for light industrial use. Provided image
The proposed South Haven Industrial Park at the northwest corner of Indiana 149 and U.S. 6 is zone for light industrial use. Provided image

VALPARAISO — Porter County officials took the first steps toward creating tax increment financing districts in South Haven and Morgan Township, the first two in unincorporated areas.

The county’s Redevelopment Commission and Plan Commission approved resolutions in quick succession recently following a presentation by consultant Stu Summers.

The proposed South Haven TIF is by far the largest, with about 870 acres of commercial and industrial land on the north end of South Haven.

The Cherokee Trail TIF would have 95 acres at the southeast corner of Ind. 49 and County Road 150 South, with the Family Express bakery at its southern border.

The TIF districts would have a 25-year lifespan.
A TIF district is set up to encourage redevelopment or development, creating jobs in the process, Summers explained. The existing tax base would go to the taxing districts already getting revenue from the property. While the TIF is in place, any additional tax revenue from that land would go toward the Redevelopment Commission for use in providing infrastructure in and adjacent to the TIF districts.

The South Haven TIF would include an industrial park proposed for the northwest corner of Ind. 149 and U.S. 6. “It’s probably going to be the largest industrial park with vacant land in the north end of the county,” Summers said.

Currently, the property generates taxes of $2,318. Fully built out in 25 years, it would bring a projected $832,160 in taxes, he said.

Industrial park boost?

The property owner has tried to make a go of an industrial park there in the past, but lenders have rejected the idea. With the prospect of a TIF, lenders are now attentive, Summers told the Redevelopment Commission at a previous meeting.

“South Haven is the largest unincorporated area in Indiana,” Summers said, and has a high poverty rate.

The Cherokee Trail project generates $2,654 in taxes currently. Fully built out, it would generate $165,140, he said.

TIF districts are complicated financial instruments. School referendums allow districts to capture some of the increase in taxes that would ordinarily go to the Redevelopment Commission for infrastructure work. When the TIF expires, the Redevelopment Commission loses that revenue stream and other local taxing districts feast on the bounty.

The County Council can grant tax abatements for projects inside the TIF, the same as for projects elsewhere, Summers said.

County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke said the Redevelopment Commission could use the TIF revenue to expand utility service like sewers, water lines and broadband to benefit areas near the TIF. That could include three mobile home parks that have private sewage treatment plants. Hooking them up to public treatment plants would be better for the environment, he said.

“This isn’t the first meeting that we’ve been talking about this,” Board of Commissioners President Jeff Good, R-Center, said. The Redevelopment Commission has been talking for months about revitalizing the U.S. 6 corridor, especially South Haven.

“It can be considered a blighted area,” Good said, and was never really developed the way it should. “The county has spent a lot of money in the South Haven area fixing drainage issues.”

“I feel that the South Haven area is an area the county needs to lift up,” he said. Residents need jobs, and the proximity of the industrial park makes sense for them, he added.

“This is long overdue,” County Council President Jeremy Rivas, D-3rd, said. “I believe it’s our first TIF district in the county.”

Good, who grew up in Morgan Township, said the light industrial zone doesn’t allow equipment to be stored outside, and smokestacks are forbidden.

Resident Diana Cook, who lives near South Haven, objected to the proposals. “Follow the master plan,” she told the Plan Commission. “What folks call vacant land, I see as productive farmland.”

“Just because we’re doing this doesn’t mean someone is going to build it out,” Plan Commission member Nikki Witkowski said.

"Developers have to go through the normal process before developing property,” Summers said.

The TIF districts an the new industrial park will be a boon to economic development. “Part of the problem is we’re selling from an empty shell,” he said, with little vacant land. With the industrial park, the Northwest Indiana Forum will have something to pitch to developers.

Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said a public hearing will be held when the Board of Commissioners considers the proposals at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The Redevelopment Commission is expected to take final action on Oct. 26.

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