Development starts long before dirt starts moving

November 11, 2013
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The growth of Carmel’s Meridian Street office corridor wasn’t a happy accident. It was city planning.

It seems like a no-brainer now, but city leaders took a chance in the early 1980s when they decided to restrict development along the two-lane highway north of Interstate 465.

There was plenty of land elsewhere for housing and retail, they reasoned, and office buildings would diversify the city’s tax base while drawing scores of potential residents to the ‘burbs.

Now the U.S. 31 corridor is central Indiana’s largest employment center outside downtown Indianapolis.

That visionary thinking was mentioned more than once last month during my Hamilton County Leadership Academy class’ daylong planning and development session. It was a fascinating look at the high-level strategy and boots-on-the-ground decisions that guide growth in any community.

The stakes are particularly high in Hamilton County, which has seen its population increase more than five-fold since 1970. It’s mind boggling, really.

We started the day at the Pittman “barn,” a retreat owned by Carmel developer Steve Pittman’s family south of 106th Street and Spring Mill Road, for a freewheeling panel discussion featuring our host and others who have skin in the game: Steve Henke of Henke Development Group, Paul Rioux of Platinum Properties, Tom McGowan of publicly traded Kite Realty Group Trust, and municipal planning directors Mike Hollibaugh from Carmel and Tom Dickey from Fishers. (Westfield senior planner and HCLA alumnus Jesse Pohlman moderated the discussion.)

County native and longtime attorney Mike Howard provided some historical context—Did you know 96th Street was a gravel road east of Keystone as recently as 1995, for example?—before we hopped on a chartered bus to get a up-close look at development in progress.

Our first stop was The Bridges, a 62-acre mixed-used project under construction along 116th Street between Illinois Street and Springmill Road. Pittman’s physician father, John, has owned the land for decades, and Pittman Partners is working with Gershman Brown Crowley Inc. to develop the site after winning a controversial rezoning in 2011.

(Fun fact: Officials turned down a rezoning request soon after Dr. Pittman bought the property, saying they wanted single-family estate homes to replace the farmland. He responded by setting up a working hog farm there.)

From there we visited Rangeline Crossing at 116th and Range Line Road, where Kite Realty invested $15 million this year to refresh the aging strip center. McGowan also joined us there, explaining how the company had to balance its tenants’ desires with the city’s zoning rules.

For example, new anchor Earth Fare didn’t want a two-story building with parking in the rear, as Carmel required at the time. So city officials made an exception rather than lose the specialty grocery store.

Next up were quick stops in Fishers (where Flaherty & Collins Properties is building a $42 million apartment-and-retail project on town-owned land along 116th Street) and Noblesville, where we drove through the sprawling Corporate Campus and took a stroll on the new downtown RiverWalk. Our tour guide: city economic development chief Judi Johnson.

Then we headed to Westfield, touring Mainstreet Properties’ ski-lodgesque Wellbrooke of Westfield senior-care facility before taking in the massive Grand Park youth-sports Mecca being built across the street.

Henke Development’s Betsy Garfield led that excursion, pointing out work-in-progress amenities like the two-story concession stands that planners hope will help distinguish the city’s 400-acre sports campus.

No, it’s not your imagination: There is a lot going on in Hamilton County.

I’ve written about most of these projects at one time or another, but our bus tour—and access to experts—helped me understand the myriad of development decisions that must be made long before earth starts moving.

Andrea Muirragui Davis is a member of the Hamilton County Leadership Academy’s Class of 2014. She is sharing lessons learned during the 10-month program, which aims to prepare individuals for service to the community by educating them about local issues. November’s topics: Health care, human services and public safety.

  • 96th paved prior to 1995
    Contrary to my friend Mike Howard's memory, 96th street was paved prior 1995. Sometime around 1973 96th street was paved by a group companies that either were located or used the street. Avco construction did the paving, asphalt materials donated the liquid asphalt American aggregates supplied the stone. I also am a life long resident of Hamilton County. My father in law was Carmel's first city attorney and worked with us in organizing this project.

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  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

  2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.