Prime Zionsville land inching toward development

After several delays, Zionsville officials are working toward a late-May deadline for wrapping up a complicated plan to buy 91.3 acres of land from Dow Chemical Co.—clearing the way for commercial development worth an estimated $55 million.

Zionsville Community Schools and the town of Zionsville are collaborating on the deal, which has changed in scope since it was announced last year due to environmental concerns on a portion of the original 126-acre property.

The purchase price dropped along with the size of the project, from $5.7 million to $3.2 million.

If the deal goes through, the school district will use money from a 2005 bond issue to pay for the property, keeping almost nine acres for storage and maintenance operations. The town would take title to the rest of the land that straddles 106th Street east of Zionsville Road, making annual payments to the schools through 2028.

Once the town installs underground utilities, Indianapolis-based Rockland Development LLC would begin developing the site. Rockland principal Paul Kite expects the first 86,400-square-foot commercial building to be complete in 2015, to be followed by five more structures over the next five years.

“We’ve been working as a group on putting something together on the Dow site since 2007,” Kite, a veteran local real estate developer, told the Zionsville Redevelopment Commission on Monday night. “Our intent is to see the property developed in a sensible and positive way for the town.”

Rockland struck the original land deal with Dow, then offered the purchase rights to the town in exchange for an exclusive development agreement. Residents at the Monday meeting asked Kite why he didn’t buy the property himself.

“I wish I could have,” he said. But in the current real estate environment, “no one can buy land for speculative development anymore.”

Kite said he already has heard from potential users of the site, which Dow was unwilling to sell piecemeal. He expects to focus on developing office space, with the goal of attracting corporate headquarters, high-tech and biomedical uses.

“We’re trying to increase the daytime population of the Village,” he said, referring to the town’s retail-oriented central business district. “It will only benefit the town economically.”

A preliminary assessment shows the property was in use as far back as 1913, when Pitman-Moore Co. had a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility there. Dow bought it in 1960 and used the plant to make human and veterinary vaccines until 1976. Buildings on the site were gone by 1989, and in the mid-1990s Dow entered a voluntary remediation program to resolve some lingering environmental issues.

State regulators signed off on a portion of the remediation in 2005, clearing the land that is part of the Zionsville deal. Remediation is still under way in the portion of the property excluded from the sale.

Results of a more-thorough environmental study are expected to be made public in advance of the Redevelopment Commission’s next meeting April 29.

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