Whitestown junkyard redevelopment proposal to face test

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The iconic Wrecks Inc. sign has presided over a vacant lot for two decades as multiple redevelopment ideas have failed to gel. (Photo courtesy of the town of Whitestown)

When Whitestown residents envision Maurer Commons, they see a development with a community center, recreational opportunities and green spaces. Those are all elements they say the fast-growing Boone County town lacks.

But when Indianapolis-based Milhaus LLC presented a plan in November for the initial phase of development on the site along Indianapolis Road, west of Interstate 65 and south of Exit 130, it included none of those amenities.

“We want more parks and recreational areas where we can be outside with our children,” said Jennifer Knotts, a Whitestown resident who lives south of the Maurer Commons site. “There’s not much around for us to be able to take our children out [to] unless we want to travel somewhere else.”

The Maurer Commons plan details a $64 million first phase to transform the former Wrecks Inc. junkyard into a mixed-use development with a 125-room hotel, a 228-unit apartment development and 75 for-rent town houses.

The plan for the initial phase also calls for $12.6 million in infrastructure that would include two roundabouts on Indianapolis Road, street improvements, and sewer and water main installations.

A project map shows a sports facility, about 34 acres of public park and recreational space, an aquatics center, and retail and office space that would be built in future phases. But there is no timeline for those components, leaving residents worried they might never come.

In 2021, Milhaus and Kansas City-based Homefield presented a proposal for Maurer Commons that showed a recreation-focused campus with an approximately 200,000-square-foot fieldhouse with an outdoor sports area, about 250 market-rate apartments, a nationally branded hotel with at least 105 rooms, an outdoor water sports and entertainment venue, at least 50,000 square feet of medical office space, another 50,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, and a potential 75 for-sale residential units.

Jeffrey Wishek, who represented areas west of I-65 in Whitestown’s District 4 from 2016 to 2023, said the plan unveiled in November for the initial phase was a “letdown” because residents expected to see more than housing proposed.

“The original plan, everybody was excited,” Wishek said. “You know, ‘Let’s do it. That’s amazing.’ And then it just never panned out, but that doesn’t mean we should give up.”

A building like Carmel’s 146,000-square-foot Monon Community Center would be ideal at Maurer Commons, Wishek said.

“The sentiment I’m getting from the residents is, we want it to be a crown jewel, and we feel like we should wait for the right development rather than continue to put in apartments,” Wishek said. “I feel like there shouldn’t be a rush to take the first offer we get because somebody’s willing to do something.”

Tom Sardelli, director of development at Milhaus, told IBJ in an email that Milhaus has made sure to preserve areas for sports and recreation in its development plan.

He said market conditions and the cost of utility and construction work necessitated that the apartments and town houses be constructed first.

“The residential components are a significant means to helping fund all of these infrastructure requirements, which are a necessary precursor to building the recreational and community-use elements,” Sardelli said.

He said the timeline for the recreational and community-use components “will be dictated by the market and once the infrastructure can be fully funded and constructed.” Additionally, Homefield, which builds youth athletic development facilities, is no longer “involved or affiliated with Milhaus” on the project, he said.

“Completing the infrastructure to allow for these community uses to be built is our No. 1 priority,” Sardelli said.

David Harting, a real estate broker, moved in 2012 to the Eagle’s Nest subdivision south of Maurer Commons. He said he would like to see a YMCA-style community building at Maurer Commons and wishes the Milhaus plan included more than just the apartments and hotel in its initial phase.

But, he said, “ultimately, the benefits will outweigh the negatives.”

Long process

Whitestown has long eyed the Maurer Commons site as an opportunity.

Wrecks Inc. was founded in 1949 by brothers Michael B. “Mickey” Maurer and Julius Maurer and moved from Indianapolis to Whitestown in the early 1950s. Julius was the father of Michael S. Maurer, also known as Mickey, who is a shareholder in IBJ Corp., which owns the Indianapolis Business Journal.

The business was well-known for its three-line neon sign along I-65 that says, “Wrecks Inc. We meet by accident. Drive carefully.”

In 2018, the town signed a $6.5 million agreement to acquire the 135-acre property. It donated about 20 acres to Little League International, which opened its Central Region headquarters in 2021.

Just north of that complex is the 240-unit Nese Apartments that were developed by Milhaus.

Beyond the Little League headquarters, town leaders at the time envisioned a community center, sports facilities and an amphitheater for the space, plus medical offices, apartments, commercial real estate and more.

It took more than two years to find development partners for the project, but when the plan from Milhaus and Homefield was finally unveiled in 2021, town leaders said the developers were “hungry to move forward” and expected to complete the project by the end of 2023.

The original agreement between the town and the developers expired in 2022 because of delays in the site receiving environmental clearance from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

After IDEM issued a certificate of completion for the site in late 2022, Whitestown and Milhaus officials began discussions on a new agreement where Milhaus would construct Phase 1, build infrastructure and make the land ready for future phases of construction.

According to a Maurer Commons project schedule, infrastructure work would begin this October and end in June 2026. Construction on the apartments would begin in March 2025 and end in March 2027. Work on the town houses would take place from March 2025 to September 2026. And the hotel would be built from June 2025 to December 2026.

The Whitestown Redevelopment Commission would sell the Phase 1 property, about 23 acres, to Milhaus for $1, according to the proposed economic development agreement. Milhaus is asking for $9.6 million in funds from bonds to develop the first phase of the project. The entire development would be about 100 acres.

Tanya Sumner

Town Council member Tanya Sumner said she and other councilors want to make sure the plan for Maurer Commons is one residents want.

“There’s a lot more room for development, and we know it will develop, and we want to see it develop,” Sumner said. “We just want to make sure it’s something that our residents and taxpayers want.”

Whitestown officials announced plans last April for a $20 million aquatic facility that would be built on the southwestern edge of Maurer Commons. The facility, which would be separate from what Milhaus would develop, is expected to open in 2025.

The Whitetown Town Council planned to review Milhaus’ proposal at its Dec. 13 meeting. However, Milhaus asked to pull its proposal from the agenda pending discussions with the new town council early this year.

“I think the plan is to have a discussion about what the council’s vision is for Maurer Commons and see what those discussions result in,” Town Council President Eric Nichols said.

Is there support?

Whitestown is experiencing turnover in leadership this year. The Town Council has three new councilors and two beginning their first full terms. The council will also select a new town manager early this year.

Tobe Thomas

Town Council members and their districts are Cheryl Hancock, 1; Dan Patterson, 2; Sumner, 3; Tobe Thomas, 4; and Nichols, 5. Hancock, Patterson, Sumner and Nichols are Republicans; Thomas is a Democrat.

The community west of Zionsville, along Interstate 65, has grown from fewer than 500 residents in 2000 to nearly 12,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Most of that growth has come in the last decade, and town officials believe the population will reach 25,000 in the next decade.

Sumner said she does not believe the new councilors favor what they have seen so far in Milhaus’ current plan for Maurer Commons.

She said she understands that Milhaus wants to build the money-making elements—apartments, town houses and the hotel—first, but the main sticking point for her is that residents west of Interstate 65 did not expect so much housing and so little in recreational amenities in an area starving for walking trails and things to do.

“I don’t want to jump on anything just because it’s the only option we have right now,” she said. “I’d rather wait and do nothing with it and get the right project that more people will be happy with. And if that means not getting anything right away, not breaking ground right away, then I’m OK with that.”

Thomas said residents in his district include many young families who have no recreational places to go near their homes. Visiting a playground means driving deeper into Whitestown or traveling a few miles to Zionsville.

“Most of the people I’ve been speaking with, they’re more interested in getting more green spaces, more parks, more amenities for the neighbors as opposed to having a lot more residential without having the proper infrastructure to support that residential,” Thomas said. “They just want it to go back to the original plan that had more green spaces, the amphitheater, the aquatic center, more ballparks.”•

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3 thoughts on “Whitestown junkyard redevelopment proposal to face test

  1. I’m a good 20+ minute drive from Whitestown and the Wreck Inc site so ultimately this is in the townspeople hands, not mine. But if residents want parks and other amenities, why doesn’t this town use their tax money to pay for this? Private developers are not going to just built public spaces, or at least they aren’t going to prioritize them over the stuff that makes them money and the overall development economically viable.

    Maybe there’s something that isn’t mentioned in the article. But it sounds like Whitestown either needs to take action on their own without relying on a developer, or to increase the tax funding for the developer so they’ll prioritize public amenities.

  2. It is very easy for residents near ANY development to say we want more common space and amenities that someone else pays for.
    It is very tough to get residents to be wiling to pay for it.
    Developers cannot build massive amounts of common space that generates no income because the financing partner will not approve the financing.
    Good Luck to Whitestown getting this issue resolved.
    DISCLAIMER: I do not live near Whitestown and I am making comments about development issues in general.

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