Niki Kelly: Is LEAP stuck in neutral?

The state of Indiana has occupied thousands of acres of farmland in Boone County for two years, and no new tenants have been announced for the controversial innovation park.

Hoosiers should be concerned about the lack of progress, considering $358.4 million has been spent on land so far. And that’s not counting the millions more in consulting and development deals the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has entered into.

The state began acquiring land in late 2021. Then, in May 2022, IEDC publicly unveiled the Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace (LEAP) research and innovation project: a massive technology park whose first tenant is Eli Lilly & Co.

Lilly initially planned to invest $2.1 billion in the project on 600 acres of land. However, at the groundbreaking in April 2023, it increased this amount to over $3.7 billion.

A few weeks ago, the company again increased that investment for a total of $9 billion and the creation of 900 new jobs, still on the 600-acre LEAP site.

Last year, Lilly quietly purchased 600 acres in two parcels from the state for $60 million. IEDC spokeswoman Erin Sweitzer said the state bought Lilly’s land for $81,000 an acre and sold it for $99,260 an acre.

“The cash received at the time of sale was returned to the General Fund. Additionally, the land improvements we have acquired to date will increase the value of land available for future sale,” she said.

According to Sweitzer, IEDC has purchased 4,009 acres of land so far and has another 3,607 acres under contract.

Progress on LEAP appears to have stalled due to one major problem: water.

Although there is enough water to support Lilly’s project, when the state began talks with major semiconductor producers, it became clear that they would need more water than Lebanon had to offer.

That’s when a pipeline of 100 million gallons of water a day from the Wabash River in Tippecanoe County was proposed – privately.

The plan was leaked clumsily, and Tippecanoe residents reacted negatively. IEDC commissioned a water test and preliminary results showed there was enough water to proceed with the diversion. But the momentum was against it.

As a result, Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered the Indiana Finance Authority to take over the study and expand it to conduct a more comprehensive study.

IFA has hired Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. and Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc. Preliminary data from the study is expected to be released in late spring or summer 2024, with final results in the fall.

If a water pipeline is built, the costs will be huge. Some say more than $2 billion, although the state disputes the existence of the estimate.

But in the meantime, Boone County is losing property tax revenue as thousands of acres of land have been removed from taxpayer rolls and remain idle. This is because land owned by the state is exempt from tax.

The IEDC website boasts about the district’s future.

“Modeled after Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, in the heart of Indiana’s Midwest, the LEAP District will be a center for global innovation and a key part of Indiana’s plan to attract and retain the businesses that will make Indiana one of the nation’s top states for… do business,” the report reads.

Some work is being done to prepare the ground for the necessary infrastructure, but when it comes to adding tenants, the project appears to be stuck in neutral and state costs continue to rise.

Niki Kelly is the editor-in-chief of, where this comment first appeared. Since 1999, he has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse for publications including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Post a comment to (email protected).