Fishers buys properties, moves dirt to draw developers

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The town of Fishers has been acquiring land east of its downtown municipal complex for more than a year, in hopes of accelerating redevelopment there.

Using about $3 million from a 2012 revenue-anticipation bond, officials have quietly struck deals with more than a half-dozen property owners in the triangle-shaped targeted area west of Lantern Road, east of the railroad tracks and north of 116th Street.

As post-recession commercial development picks up, town visionaries expect the investment to pay off with projects that generate more activity downtown.

“We worked with willing sellers to assemble the property,” said Tom Dickey, the town’s director of community development and a former Duke Realty Corp. executive. “Our goal is to have enough land for three or four major redevelopment projects.”

Town Manager Scott Fadness said the buying spree is intended to address a hurdle to past developments: the hassle and cost of dealing with a hodgepodge of property owners.

Demolition on the properties has begun, and officials are in talks with interested developers. Dickey expects specific projects to begin taking shape in three to four months.

Until then, property purchased by the town across the railroad tracks from the Hamilton East Public Library likely will be used for parking.

Already in short supply downtown, public parking will be even more limited in August, after construction starts on a $35 million mixed-use project slated for the northwest corner of 116th Street and Muncipal Drive, in front of Fishers Town Hall.

In the past, that project site has been used for parking during Fishers’ well-attended summer concert series and by area residents riding the Indiana Transportation Museum’s Fair Train to the Indiana State Fair.

Dickey said a pedestrian crossing over the railroad tracks is in the works to connect the temporary parking area with the municipal complex, also home to the town’s new Nickel Plate District Amphitheater.

A 406-space parking garage is included in plans for the Flaherty & Collins mixed-use project announced last fall, and Dickey expects additional public parking to be a key component of future developments as officials look to build a hub of activity downtown.

“Parking will continue to be the ultimate make or break for us downtown,” Fadness said. “It’s something we talk about all the time.”

Town leaders hope the redevelopment projects add a vibrancy to downtown that will attract residents and businesses alike.

Officials acknowledge downtown redevelopment won’t happen overnight—indeed, it has been discussed for decades—but they say the recent land acquisitions show they’re serious about fulfilling their vision for the community.

When KFC closed its company-owned store at 116th and Lantern last year, for example, the town purchased the property so that it could have more control over future uses.

Rather than replacing KFC with a stand-alone fast food restaurant surrounded by a sea of surface parking, Fadness envisions a two- or three-story multi-tenant building hugging the high-profile corner.

High on his wish list for new downtown businesses: a microbrewery.

“I would love that,” he said. “And I think it would succeed.”

Scotty’s Brewhouse founder Scott Wise said last week that downtown Fishers is one of the sites he is considering as he looks to grow his family of restaurants—which includes Broad Ripple’s Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co.—but no decision is imminent.

A block or so west of the shuttered KFC, the town bought and bulldozed a vacant home that had been languishing on the market for years. Removal of the so-called “blue house” opened up prime property on Fishers’ main thoroughfare, but Dickey said development of the landlocked site is likely years away.

In the meantime, officials are exploring the idea of creating a pocket park there, at least temporarily. The possibility of adding public space next door to the wildly popular Handel’s Ice Cream shop had Town Council members buzzing at a recent work session.

“We see it as a fun, whimsical place where you can park your bike, eat your ice cream and hang out,” Dickey said.

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