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Carmel council clashes over support of Midtown project

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The Carmel City Council will not support Pedcor Cos.’ application for a state tax credit to help pay for a $100 million redevelopment project—a contentious decision Mayor Jim Brainard called “unusual and illogical.”

Councilors called it a sign of the growing philosophical divide over whether the city should pursue development at all costs.

Members voted 4-2 Monday to reject a resolution allowing the mayor to seek industrial recovery site designation for the former Woods Wire plant at the heart of the redevelopment site, making it eligible for a tax credit of up to $25 million.

Pedcor, the principal developer of Carmel City Center, owns the shuttered manufacturing facility and is working on plans to transform the so-called Midtown area along the Monon Trail.

Details have yet to take shape, but CEO Bruce Cordingley said the project likely will include a mix of upscale housing and offices.

Cordingley answered questions from the council’s Land Use committee last month, assuring members that the community would be part of the development process. The panel voted 3-1 against the resolution.

The council on Monday affirmed that recommendation after some heated debate.

“I am disappointed and, frankly, disgusted with how this came out of committee,” council member Sue Finkam said, adding that the tax credit would encourage private investment in a project that could bolster Carmel City Center and the city’s Arts & Design District, which bookend the Midtown site.

Later, she called the vote "the most short-sighted decision I've seen the council make yet."

Resolution sponsor Kevin “Woody” Rider joined Finkam in supporting the measure. (Councilor Ron Carter, who also spoke in favor of the tax-credit application before the committee vote last week, was absent from Monday’s meeting.)

Council Finance Committee chairwoman Luci Snyder said the city simply cannot afford to get involved with new projects after taking on $184 million of Carmel Redevelopment Commission debt late last year.

Although Carmel-based Pedcor has not asked for financial help with the so-called Midtown project yet, Cordingley told the committee it likely would require tax-increment financing.

Then there’s the expense of relocating utilities on the property, which Snyder said could cost the city as much as $9 million “before the wonderfulness of the new project” can take shape. A proposed “Monon Avenue” would add another $11 million to the tab, she said.

“The first thing developers do is come to this body and say, ‘We need municipal infrastructure,’” Snyder said. “That entails [the city] borrowing more when we really need to take a break and do the prudent thing and pay down debt.”

Rider disagreed, calling the committee’s recommendation “baffling.” The city wouldn’t be making any financial commitments by approving the tax-credit application, he said.

“If we can’t afford it, the project doesn’t start,” Rider said. “I have the guts to say ‘no’ if we don’t have the money to build Midtown.”

Brainard urged councilors to delay their vote and send the resolution back to committee for another look. Although a change in state law would allow Pedcor to apply for the tax credit without Carmel’s backing, “it won’t help our local developer … to have a resolution in place saying ‘We don’t want to do this,’” he said.

After the vote, council President Rick Sharp called the decision practical given the city’s financial situation.

He also echoed Finkam’s observation that the Midtown debate may only be the opening salvo of a bigger battle over continued growth.

“What do we think is in the best long-term interest for Carmel?” Sharp said. “It is clear there has been some divergence on this topic.”

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  • Glad it's over
    This Carmel resident since it was a sleepy little burgh is glad to see the madness of Carmel's political machine finally getting reigned in. A small city of 80,000 to have a total debt of over one billion dollars is nuts.
  • About time
    Carmel doesn't have the funding to complete Illinois street, or the buffering promised to Spring Mill Place. How can they be expected to pay for new utility and road improvements, for another project, when Woody promised, in person, to my face, that Illinois would be finished,before the Meridian construction.... and, before the Bridges was built. He said that the Bridges tax revenue would pay for Illinois. How is that working out? Carmel should fulfill some of their other promises first. Oh, and btw, the "one of the best places to live" report, was done before all these new apartments, and commercial developments next to established residential neighborhoods. Its time to take a break. And yes, you indeed can look at public records for donations to PAC's and individual campaigns. Makes for some interesting reading.
  • NO DOUBT
    I grew up in Carmel and currently live in Carmel. There is no doubt the growth has been wonderful but what does it hurt to wait and digest the $184 million that the city just took on - Look at who has funded Woody and Sue in their elections and I have NO DOUBT they would be in favor. The developers expect to get what they paid for.
  • exactions
    Certainly the Monon project could be covered under the Parks and Recreation impact fee. But is Carmel's impact fee ordinance too inflexible to provide sufficient funds for the planned work? Perhaps its time for the city to consider adopting broader impact fee ordinances--for roads, utilities, etc.--to shift more of the financial burden of development to developers (and, ultimately, their consumers) and away from the broader tax base?
  • Agree
    Woody's comments were accurate. If you don't choose to fund it, then don't. But why stop an opportunity for private investment?
  • Short-Sighted
    As someone who has grown up and lived in Carmel throughout its transition into what is nationally considered one of the best places to live, it baffles me that the City Council would be so short-sighted and hostile towards one of the city's most prominent developers as it attempts to remove one of the city's few remaining (but still omnipresent) eyesores. Voting no does not make the state tax credit go away; instead, another community with a more rational leadership will get to take advantage of the financial incentive to develop, while Carmel's city council has done nothing but give potential partners to the project a justified reason to walk away.

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