Noblesville eyes plans for $10M park, amphitheater

Noblesville wants to build a $10 million park with an amphitheater on land just west of the White River—an investment officials hope will extend the city’s “hipstoric” downtown and jump-start redevelopment of a key community gateway.

The city has been working on a vision for the 6.4-acre property between State Road 32 and Logan Street for about a year, spending just under $1 million to purchase the land and hire Ratio Architects.

Plans—and costs—were unveiled during a public meeting Aug. 19, but several Common Council members made it clear that they weren’t sold on the expense.

rop-noblesvillerendering-081814-15col.jpg Proponents of Federal Hill Park say it will boost economic development. (Rendering courtesy of city of Noblesville)

Others questioned the site’s location given the heavy traffic, limited parking and need for better connectivity to the courthouse square and the rest of downtown. (A $2 million pedestrian bridge spanning the river was not included in the cost estimate.)

Proponents were passionate in their support of the project, calling it an investment in the community’s overall quality of life that will spur economic development.

The site is part of Noblesville’s so-called Westside Gateway district, an area long targeted for growth. Although the recession stalled commercial development there, city leaders believe its time has come.

Mayor John Ditslear said at least one company is exploring a project nearby—assuming work on the park begins as expected next year.

The objective is to create a signature gathering place that will pay homage to the city’s history and serve its residents, said Deputy Mayor Mike Hendricks.

As designed, the newly named Federal Hill Park—locals have referred to the area as Federal Hill since the 1800s—would include an amphitheater and event lawn, a plaza suitable for a farmer’s market, a splash pad and playground, and a concession and rest room facility. A removable ice-skating rink would make the park usable year-round.

A retaining wall designed to provide some separation from the passing traffic would stand as a visual city time line of sorts, adorned with historic images. Public art also is in the works.

The park won’t just be recreational space, said city Planning Director Christy Langley. It’s envisioned as a hub for arts and culture, an activity center that draws residents and visitors alike downtown.

About 168,000 visitors a year visit the retailers and restaurants surrounding the historic courthouse square, according to data from Noblesville Main Street.

Federal Hill is expected to become a permanent home for the Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission’s long-running Shakespeare in the Park series. It also could house the city’s free summer concerts, outdoor movies and other special events.

Ditslear’s team has proposed paying for park construction with revenue from the city’s Logan Street tax-increment financing district, which can be used only to fund improvements in the redevelopment area.

Still, council member Steve Wood and others expressed concerns about fast-tracking Federal Hill now, when Noblesville has another 180 acres of would-be parkland waiting to be developed on the east side of the city, nightly traffic snarls downtown and limited resources to provide basic services.

A formal budget proposal isn’t expected until October, but Boice said preliminary numbers indicate officials will be looking to trim expenses.

The city needs to meet its obligations, said Economic Development Director Judi Johnson, but leaders also should work to create a community that residents—and businesses—want to call home.

“We need to create our culture in Noblesville,” she said. “A lot of people are excited about this. This isn’t just about money; it’s about how we feel about our city.”•

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