Fishers plans new development on train-station site

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Outside Fishers Town Hall, crews are clearing land for The Depot at Nickel Plate, a $42 million mixed-use project officials hope will launch a wave of redevelopment downtown. Inside, leaders are working to take advantage of the momentum.

Incentive deals are on the table to keep two high-potential businesses in Fishers, and the town is poised to pull the trigger on redevelopment of the Fishers Train Station property—where one of the firms could occupy third-floor office space.

Early plans call for the brick building erected in 1996 to be demolished to make way for office, retail and residential space. Specifics will take shape after the town issues a request for proposals and negotiates a development deal.

The concrete track-side platform is expected to remain in place, said Tom Dickey, the town’s community development director.

“Our business retention and redevelopment efforts are colliding,” he said of the proposed agreement with digital marketing firm BLASTmedia, which would get reduced rent on the new offices beginning in 2015. “There is a place in Fishers for growing companies.”

Blast, which now leases offices on two floors in Forum Credit Union’s headquarters east of Interstate 69, was weighing a move to a Broad Ripple building co-owned by CEO Kelly Hendricks when economic development leaders came up with another way to unite the staff of 30:

Ask the Fishers Redevelopment Commission to take over a portion of Blast’s lease now—resulting in costs savings but tight quarters for Blast—and offer the company reduced rent on 10,000 square feet of space in the train station development, part of downtown’s master plan.

Further sweetening the deal: The commission could sublease the Forum offices to mobile app developer BlueBridge Digital, which is outgrowing its space in coworking haven Launch Fishers.

Authorized by state statute, redevelopment commissions can use revenue from tax-increment financing districts to boost economic development efforts. Fishers’ five-member panel, appointed by the Town Council, has become more active in recent years as the town has worked to grow its tax base through commercial investment.

“As we’ve become more aggressive in economic development, it has become a significant tool,” said Town Manager Scott Fadness. “The redevelopment commission allows us to be creative in keeping companies here, in bringing companies here.”

Leaders are looking to build an attractive, vibrant downtown that will draw both the small businesses that create jobs and the educated work force they want to hire.

“Our focus is entrepreneurs, technology, high-growth businesses,” Dickey said. “That’s where the job growth is.”

Jaramillo Jaramillo

To that end, the town last year approved a $350,000 investment in Launch Fishers, which opened on the ground floor of the Hamilton East Public Library to give promising startups an alternative to the extremes of coffee-shop squatting and long-term leases.

BlueBridge founder and CEO Santiago Jaramillo—named TechPoint’s young professional of the year at the Mira Awards this year—was its first member. His business partner was the second. Exactly one year later, the company has 15 employees.

“It was the right idea, at the right time, with the right people,” Jaramillo said.

Although BlueBridge is still “growing like bonkers,” he said business is predictable enough now to find a more permanent location. Jaramillo lives in Fishers, but his partners live in Zionsville and Noblesville, so they evaluated a number of options.

“We wanted to start from scratch,” he said. “Where you base your company is very important to attracting the right kind of talent. I have to make the best decision for the company’s future.”

Jaramillo put the search on hold when Fishers floated the idea of a subsidized sublease. He said the town’s support is important, as is its leaders’ commitment to businesses of all sizes. Also tipping the scales in its favor: a strong quality of life and “agreeable” cost of living.

Legal eagles are still vetting the details, but the Fishers Redevelopment Commission this month approved a resolution authorizing the incentives for Blast and BlueBridge, which still must be approved by the Town Council and signed by the appropriate parties.

Draft agreements posted on the town’s website outline the terms: Blast would pledge to add 25 jobs paying $40,000-$55,000 a year by 2018. (It has an out clause if the new office building isn’t ready for occupancy within two years.) BlueBridge, meanwhile, would promise to add 17 jobs by 2015. The agreement lists current salaries between $30,000 and $100,000.

The redevelopment commission will pay about $151,000 to take over the lease beginning Oct. 1; after the gradually increasing payments from BlueBridge, the total subsidy is expect to be less than $60,000.

Commission President Paul Plaia declined to discuss the board’s activity with IBJ, referring questions to town leaders. Council President John Weingardt said the commission operates independently, asking questions about proposed projects and carefully weighing their decisions.

“They take their roles very seriously,” he said. “They really want to look at what’s in the taxpayers’ best interests and make sure citizens are being represented well.”

The redevelopment commission also provides public contributions to projects like The Depot at Nickel Plate. Developer Flaherty & Collins Properties got free land and about $11 million in TIF funds to subsidize parking, which is in short supply downtown.

The town also is designing a tree-lined natural park equipped with granite benches and a water feature on the so-called Central Green between The Depot and the train station.

Officials aren’t ready to share detailed plans for the train station site, but Dickey said the project could be under way next year and complete in 2015.

Flaherty & Collins is expected to sign on for apartments and retail wrapped around a parking garage (likely a scaled-down version of The Depot across the street) and another as-yet-unidentified developer is expected to tackle a small office building along 116th Street.

Ambrose Property Group principal Pat Crittenden expects demand for the 15,000 square feet of retail space at The Depot to be strong—likely strong enough to drive interest in the train station project.

He also suspects town leaders want to provide some counter balance for the three-story “monster” about to emerge in the form of 242 luxury apartments and a 430-vehicle parking garage.

“They’re headed in the right direction, really trying to put their stamp on downtown,” said Crittenden, who worked on Ambrose’s pitch for the mixed-use project last year. “I like what I see.”

Estimated costs—and possible incentives—for the train station development remain to be determined. But maintaining control comes at a cost, said Tim Stevens, director of development for Indianapolis-based Mann Properties, which has holdings in the area.

“Without the town’s very heavy involvement, that project doesn’t happen,” he said. “Fishers [leaders have] developed a vision for what they want downtown, and they’re incentivizing people to do it their way.”

At the staff’s recommendation and with the council’s blessing, the redevelopment commission also has assembled almost a dozen properties east of the railroad tracks, buying individual lots from homeowners to accelerate development.

Dickey said officials also are in talks with a company interested in developing an office building on some of that land. He declined to share details.

Class A office space is in short supply in fast-growing Fishers, where second-quarter occupancy rates exceeded 97 percent.

Attracting employers to the soon-to-be-city’s core is important if Fishers wants the retailers and restaurants drawn by an area’s daytime population, Stevens said.

“We’re going to build a sense of place,” said Weingardt, the town council president, “a beautiful downtown where people can live, work and play. The sleeping giant’s waking up.”•

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