Fishers OKs train station project despite objections

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Fishers has attracted more than $93 million in downtown projects since making redevelopment a priority in 2012.

Is it too much too fast? Or a long time coming? The answer depends on who you ask.

The Town Council voted 5-2 Monday to proceed with plans for a $28 million mixed-use project on the site of the Fishers Train Station, part of a long-term strategy to strengthen the suburban community’s core.

Town leaders want to create an attractive, vibrant downtown that will draw both the small businesses that create jobs and the educated work force they want to hire.

First up: The Depot at Nickel Plate, a $42 million apartment-and-retail project developer Flaherty & Collins is building at 116th Street and Municipal Drive, in front of Town Hall. Fishers contributed the land and $11 million for a 430-space parking garage.

The town also provided land for a $5.5 million office building (and corporate headquarters) Meyer Najem is erecting just east of the Fishers Public Library, on the other side of the railroad tracks, and an $18 million mixed-use project at 116th and Lantern Road.

Under the terms of the new deal with Indianapolis-based Loftus Robinson Development, Fishers will hand over the 3.5-acre train station property and up to $9.5 million for a 400-space garage and public improvements on the site.

Resolutions like the one authorizing the train station project typically don’t require public hearings, but the Fishers council opened the floor—and the floodgates—on Monday anyway. Nine residents addressed council members; all but one opposed the proposal.

Attorney Greg Purvis, a Democratic candidate for Fishers’ first City Council, said the “ordinary citizens” he has talked to don’t support downtown redevelopment at the expense of public green space and the “character” Fishers’ older buildings offer.

“They don’t want this to look like Carmel East,” he said.

Purvis questioned the wisdom of the town borrowing money “to give away” to developers and the decision to demolish what he called a community icon.

“You’re taking away a building with history, a connection to our past,” he said.

After the public hearing, Councilor Pete Peterson scoffed at notion that the building is significant.

“I have a pair of work shoes that are older than that train station,” he said. “Does that make them historic?”

Built in 1996, the 8,000-square-foot brick building serves as a boarding platform for the Indiana Transportation History Museum’s annual state fair train and periodically  hosts other special excursions. Year-round tenants include the Fishers Chamber of Commerce, Fishers Town Court and the town’s employee health clinic.

Plans call for keeping the concrete platform in place and accessible via a pedestrian  plaza between the three-story office/retail building and four-story apartment building. Officials have worked with the Metropolitan Planning Organization to make sure the design would be able to accommodate future mass-transit needs.

The town-funded garage would have more than 100 spaces set aside for public parking at all times, council members said in justifying the investment—and more on nights and weekends, when  the office building will be largely unoccupied.

Other opponents criticized the decision to move forward with the train station project while The Depot is under construction, suggesting it might be more prudent to wait for that development to prove its viability lest space go unrented. Their message: Slow down.

The thing is, officials have been talking about redeveloping downtown Fishers for decades. Plan after plan failed to gain traction—until the town began priming the pump in 2012.

“This opportunity at The Depot and [the train station] site are a way to jumpstart the process,” said longtime Councilor Stuart Easley.

The lone supporter during Monday’s public hearing was Fishers resident and veteran business owner Fritz Kreutzinger, whose used-car lot was located on the train station property before the town acquired it in a land swap. (Fritz in Fishers now has locations across the street and in Noblesville.)

Kreutzinger said his mom-and-pop enterprise has grown along with downtown.

“As more business, more people, more activity came, it helped grow our business,” he said.

So what do you make of Fishers’ economic development strategy: Is the town making long-awaited progress or jumping into more than it bargained for?

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