Carmel City Council panel removes carousel funding from bond package

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The Carmel City Council finance committee is sending a $101 million bond package back to the full body to vote on, but removed funding for acquiring the controversial carousel.

The city announced plans for the new debt in July—a $76 million bond that would be backed by local income tax revenue and pay for an antique carousel, the proposed City Center hotel and a variety of street, path and infrastructure improvements, plus a $25 million bond supported through tax increment financing revenue for land acquisition.

The carousel that Mayor Jim Brainard has been in negotiations to purchase is the hand-carved Centerville Carousel that Dentzel Co. built in 1907 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It operates at Centerville Island in Toronto and features 52 hand-carved animals, two ornate bench seats and an antique band organ.

The cost could be up to $5 million, which caused residents and several City Council members to question whether private funds would be raised to pay for it and if it was a worthwhile public investment. An online petition against funding the carousel had more than 1,600 signatures as of Wednesday night, while an online petition in support of the investment had about 730.

At the finance committee meeting Wednesday night, the council voted to remove $5 million from the proposed $76 million bond that had been earmarked for the carousel.

The full council will still have to vote on the decision, but a majority of the members have already said they agree with removing it.

Brainard has argued that the carousel would continue to add to the quality-of-life amenities in Carmel and would attract visitors. And he's said he’s looking at other ways to finance it.

The council did not amend funding for the other project that’s caused debate—the $40 million Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel that would be built between the Monon Trail and Veterans Way, just south of City Center Drive.

The hotel would be four to five stories tall with 120 rooms, about 3,200 square feet of meeting space, a restaurant and bar on the first floor and an entertainment venue in the lower level that would connect to the Monon.

The city would use $15 million from the bond proceeds to pay for it, plus the Carmel Redevelopment Commission would back a $25 million construction loan that Pedcor Cos. would obtain.

A financial projection prepared by the hotel consultant the city has hired to help with the project and eventually operate the facility shows the hotel generating enough revenue to cover expenses and debt payments from the start.

“This just didn’t get thrown on a bond and we said, ‘OK,’” council member Kevin Rider said. “We’re studying this. I don’t know anything in my 10 years that we’ve studied more than this.”

The full council is expected to vote on the bonds at its meeting Monday.

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