State briefs

Deal frees $173M to expand South Shore commuter rail line

MICHIGAN CITY — A federal agency has finalized a deal to provide $173 million for expanding the South Shore commuter rail line that runs between northern Indiana and Chicago by adding a second track between two Indiana cities.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday that the Federal Transit Administration’s agreement with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District will allow construction to start on expanding the South Shore rail line to a double track between Gary and Michigan City.

The project will add a second set of tracks spanning about 17 miles along an existing single-track rail between the two cities, and make other improvements.

Holcomb said the project, which will cost a total of $491 million, will speed passenger rail service between the cities, make critical safety improvements at grade crossings and upgrade five stations along that route.

“By improving commuter rail through the Region, the project is a game changer for northwest Indiana and the entire state,” Holcomb said.

The state of Indiana had already committed nearly $200 million for the work, while local municipalities and entities have agree to spend nearly $120 million.

The agreement between the federal agency and operator of the South Shore line comes about three months after a similar agreement was finalized for $355 million in federal funding for a project to extend the South Shore commuter rail line from Hammond south to Dyer. The total cost of that 7.8-mil extension and work to add four new stations is $945 million.

Ornate Indiana mansion to become venue for weddings, events

FORT WAYNE — An ornate northeastern Indiana mansion that housed a funeral home for nearly a century is getting a new, more festive life as a venue for weddings, anniversaries and other occasions.

The roughly 125-year-old Fort Wayne mansion had long been served as the home of the Klaehn, Fahl & Melton Funeral Home, but the 15,000-square-foot building was sold last month to RGS Real Estate.

Belle Castle Enterprise plans to renovate the property for use as an event center for weddings, bridal parties, birthdays, anniversaries and corporate events, representative Carlene Gray told The Journal Gazette.

“No funerals,” she said, laughing.

The building was built about 1893 by Robert Clarke Bell, a late 19th- and early 20th-century attorney and Democratic state senator, for himself and his wife, Clara.

Built in the Richardsonian Romanesque-style, it is ornate inside and out. Its interior features parquet floors, carved wood trim and a tile fireplace, and its exterior includes elaborate gargoyles and decorative arches.

The building is historic for its architecture, its first owner and events that it once hosted, including visits by William Jennings Bryan, who unsuccessfully ran for president as a Democrat in 1896, 1900 and 1908.

Bryan, who was one of Bell’s friends, was reported to have given speeches from the home’s front porch, said Connie Haas Zuber, executive director of ARCH, a Fort Wayne nonprofit historic preservation organization.

“It is a very significant house. It was widely regarded as, if not the finest, one of the finest homes in Fort Wayne,” she said.

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