The growth of Carmel’s Meridian Street office corridor wasn’t a happy accident. It was city planning.
It seems like a no-brainer now, but city leaders took a chance in the early 1980s when they decided to restrict development along the two-lane highway north of Interstate 465.
There was plenty of land elsewhere for housing and retail, they reasoned, and office buildings would diversify the city’s tax base while drawing scores of potential residents to the ‘burbs.
Now the U.S. 31 corridor is central Indiana’s largest employment center outside downtown Indianapolis.
That visionary thinking was mentioned more than once last month during my Hamilton County Leadership Academy class’ daylong planning and development session. It was a fascinating look at the high-level strategy and boots-on-the-ground decisions that guide growth in any community.
The stakes are particularly high in Hamilton County, which has seen its population increase more than five-fold since 1970. It’s mind boggling, really.
We started the day at the Pittman “barn,” a retreat owned by Carmel developer Steve Pittman’s family south of 106th Street and Spring Mill Road, for a freewheeling panel discussion featuring our host and others who have skin in the game: Steve Henke of Henke Development Group, Paul Rioux of Platinum Properties, Tom McGowan of publicly traded Kite Realty Group Trust, and municipal planning directors Mike Hollibaugh from Carmel and Tom Dickey from Fishers. (Westfield senior planner and HCLA alumnus Jesse Pohlman moderated the discussion.)
County native and longtime attorney Mike Howard provided some historical context—Did you know 96th Street was a gravel road east of Keystone as recently as 1995, for example?—before we hopped on a chartered bus to get a up-close look at development in progress.
Our first stop was The Bridges, a 62-acre mixed-used project under construction along 116th Street between Illinois Street and Springmill Road. Pittman’s physician father, John, has owned the land for decades, and Pittman Partners is working with Gershman Brown Crowley Inc. to develop the site after winning a controversial rezoning in 2011.
(Fun fact: Officials turned down a rezoning request soon after Dr. Pittman bought the property, saying they wanted single-family estate homes to replace the farmland. He responded by setting up a working hog farm there.)
From there we visited Rangeline Crossing at 116th and Range Line Road, where Kite Realty invested $15 million this year to refresh the aging strip center. McGowan also joined us there, explaining how the company had to balance its tenants’ desires with the city’s zoning rules.
For example, new anchor Earth Fare didn’t want a two-story building with parking in the rear, as Carmel required at the time. So city officials made an exception rather than lose the specialty grocery store.
Next up were quick stops in Fishers (where Flaherty & Collins Properties is building a $42 million apartment-and-retail project on town-owned land along 116th Street) and Noblesville, where we drove through the sprawling Corporate Campus and took a stroll on the new downtown RiverWalk. Our tour guide: city economic development chief Judi Johnson.
Then we headed to Westfield, touring Mainstreet Properties’ ski-lodgesque Wellbrooke of Westfield senior-care facility before taking in the massive Grand Park youth-sports Mecca being built across the street.
Henke Development’s Betsy Garfield led that excursion, pointing out work-in-progress amenities like the two-story concession stands that planners hope will help distinguish the city’s 400-acre sports campus.
No, it’s not your imagination: There is a lot going on in Hamilton County.
I’ve written about most of these projects at one time or another, but our bus tour—and access to experts—helped me understand the myriad of development decisions that must be made long before earth starts moving.
Andrea Muirragui Davis is a member of the Hamilton County Leadership Academy’s Class of 2014. She is sharing lessons learned during the 10-month program, which aims to prepare individuals for service to the community by educating them about local issues. November’s topics: Health care, human services and public safety.