Renowned planner shares vision for Carmel's Midtown

June 13, 2013
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Urban planner extraordinaire Jeff Speck presented his vision for Carmel’s Midtown area at a packed Carmel Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week, generating buzz for a proposal that has divided the City Council.

The Carmel Redevelopment Commission hired Washington, D.C.-based Speck & Associates LLC to come up with a redevelopment plan for the largely industrial property between Main Street and Carmel City Center along the Monon Trail.

Speck’s design, submitted to the city last year, calls for building a so-called Monon Avenue on either side of a widened recreational path, with a single lane of traffic traveling in each direction. Commercial and residential developers, he said, would in turn be drawn to the area’s walkability.

“If executed properly, that should set the stage for a tremendous amount of private investment,” he told IBJ afterward. “In planning, as in business, you have to spend money to make money.”

That’s the rub. Tempers flared last month when members of the City Council turned down developer Pedcor Cos.’ request for help applying for a state tax credit that could cover one-fourth of a $100 million Midtown redevelopment, saying Carmel couldn’t afford more projects right now.

Although Pedcor isn’t asking for financial support yet, Finance Committee leader Luci Snyder said it could cost the cash-strapped city $20 million just to build the road and bury utilities. Then there’s the likelihood that Pedcor will ask for tax-increment financing for the project in the future.

Critics of the cautious councilors—including Mayor Jim Brainard and the two council members who voted to support the Pedcor proposal—say the decision was short-sighted, since allowing the tax-credit application doesn’t commit the city to anything.

Sentiment at the chamber meeting seemed to be supportive of redevelopment, based on the post-lunch buzz among rank-and-file attendees. Speck, a champion of walkability, also sold and signed copies of his latest book on the subject.

His Midtown design also includes a number of public spaces along the trail, highlighted by a prominent Water Tower Square about halfway through the 10-minute walk from City Center to Main Street.

Check out his full plan here, then weigh in. What do you think of Speck’s ideas for Midtown?

  • What's the Holdup
    I'm no social planner, but it seems like it would really increase the value of nearby proerties. My question is, don't most "developments" require the city to provide the framework for utilities, sewer, etc, and don't cities usually provide such services with the expectation of collecting more in property tax and income tax revenue in the future (not to mention the improved quality of life for the citizens)? I dont have a copy of the city's balance sheet, but I find it hard to believe the liability side is that much bigger than the asset side to prevent this project from happening.
  • Maxed out the card
    In extremely broad strokes, the concerns of the councilors who voted against the initial TIF application by Pedcor were that Carmel has essentially done too much lately and needs to focus on paying down its liabilities before diving back in to another huge project. I don't think any of them are really against redeveloping this area or would argue against the eventual benefit to the city. Its just a question of what we can afford, and when. I'd suggest you check out the Property Lines blog posts on this project for a rather heated and more in depth discussion of this issue.
  • The Rest of the Story
    It appears if you’re a Greenfield development in Carme,those projects get approved in record time. It is also a fact that those type developments come at a cost that is far more expensive to a city than redevelopment in the core. If paid for from the general fund the cost to the city is nearly double. While a few individual TIF's have had their assessed values repealed and lowered, the over all TIF income is dramatically up and climbing. Midtown, mixed use, and walkable is the product that is high demand today across the country. Interest rates are at historical lows. There will never be a better time to build and use TIF for City infrastructure. It appears to many if one looks below the surface the reluctances of some on the council to support Midtown has more to do with Glen Beck conspiracies than the economics and benefits that the development brings to Carmel.
  • Expected
    Glad to see the Mayor's political consultant's have been making a little money.
  • Talk is cheap
    Actually, I think this mid town idea is great. However, Carmel has some catching up to do, with promises (and city council resolutions) like Illinois street buffering and completion. I personally expect the City Council to back up their promises first, before they start tackling other projects. Its nice to start new commercial developments, with everyone involved sharing the benefits, but its important to take care of protecting, and supporting some existing residential neighborhoods too. These promises were made in past years, and commercial developers benefited from City Council's actions. So far, things have not panned out the way they were promised.

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  1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

  2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

  3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

  4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

  5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.