Renowned planner shares vision for Carmel’s Midtown

Urban planner extraordinaire Jeff Speck presented his vision for Carmel’s Midtown area at a packed Carmel Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week, generating buzz for a proposal that has divided the City Council.

The Carmel Redevelopment Commission hired Washington, D.C.-based Speck & Associates LLC to come up with a redevelopment plan for the largely industrial property between Main Street and Carmel City Center along the Monon Trail.

Speck’s design, submitted to the city last year, calls for building a so-called Monon Avenue on either side of a widened recreational path, with a single lane of traffic traveling in each direction. Commercial and residential developers, he said, would in turn be drawn to the area’s walkability.

“If executed properly, that should set the stage for a tremendous amount of private investment,” he told IBJ afterward. “In planning, as in business, you have to spend money to make money.”

That’s the rub. Tempers flared last month when members of the City Council turned down developer Pedcor Cos.’ request for help applying for a state tax credit that could cover one-fourth of a $100 million Midtown redevelopment, saying Carmel couldn’t afford more projects right now.

Although Pedcor isn’t asking for financial support yet, Finance Committee leader Luci Snyder said it could cost the cash-strapped city $20 million just to build the road and bury utilities. Then there’s the likelihood that Pedcor will ask for tax-increment financing for the project in the future.

Critics of the cautious councilors—including Mayor Jim Brainard and the two council members who voted to support the Pedcor proposal—say the decision was short-sighted, since allowing the tax-credit application doesn’t commit the city to anything.

Sentiment at the chamber meeting seemed to be supportive of redevelopment, based on the post-lunch buzz among rank-and-file attendees. Speck, a champion of walkability, also sold and signed copies of his latest book on the subject.

His Midtown design also includes a number of public spaces along the trail, highlighted by a prominent Water Tower Square about halfway through the 10-minute walk from City Center to Main Street.

Check out his full plan here, then weigh in. What do you think of Speck’s ideas for Midtown?

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