Noblesville delays decision on funding scaled-back downtown park

The Noblesville Common Council on Tuesday delayed its vote on funding a downtown park planned for west of the White River, asking the city administration for more information about long-term costs—and future projects that also might require a municipal investment.

City leaders are asking to issue a 25-year bond to fund construction of Federal Hill park, repaying the debt with revenue from its Logan Street tax-increment financing district.

Noblesville collects about $2.7 million in property taxes from the TIF district each year, using $1.4 million to repay existing debts.

The Federal Hill project, which has been scaled back from a $10 million pie-in-the-sky proposal to a $5.4 million just-the-basics plan with some optional upgrades, would require annual payments of $330,000-$465,000, according to projections from city attorney Mike Howard.

Excess TIF revenue has been used in recent years for property acquisition—including the Federal Hill land—a one-off projects such as the city’s share of a railroad track replacement, he said.

“We can afford it,” Howard told the council, but the question is, “what are your priorities?”

The more expensive park, which included a splash pad, additional shelters and a larger building serving the open-air market plaza, was a “pretty picture that may or may not be affordable,” Mayor John Ditslear told the council.

Officials pruned the plans after several council members balked at the expense during an August meeting unveiling the proposal.

Proposed Federal Hill park/gateway, NoblesvilleScaled-back plans for Federal Hill park/gateway still include an amphitheater, but not much else. Click to enlarge. (Rendering provided by city of Noblesville)

Another change intended to curry favor among the council: The word “park” has been removed from the Federal Hill name. Instead, the project is being pitched as the western gateway to the city’s historic downtown that could spur economic development.

Transforming the 6.4-acre flood plain into usable green space with an outdoor amphitheater (which survived the simplified plans) and room for the community to gather is an effort to create the “sense of place” employers are looking for, Ditslear said.

“We do have the opportunity … to really do something with economic development,” the mayor said.

Indeed, Howard indicated a business prospect already is interested in property near Federal Hill. Such talks are confidential, but he told the council that the prospect’s project could bring 60 jobs paying $100,000 a year.

Council President Mark Boice asked the administration to prepare a timeline for the next council meeting that includes the Federal Hill costs and any future projects that also might dip into the TIF till.

A pedestrian bridge spanning the river is considered a key part of linking Federal Hill to Noblesville’s vibrant courthouse square, but the estimated $2 million expense is not included in the current funding request.

Howard said the city and county are working to tie the bridge into their ongoing RiverWalk project along the east side of the river. The next phase of that project, which has won some federal funding, is scheduled for 2015.

Boice said he also wants feedback on the Federal Hill project from leaders of Riverview Health and Kroger Co., which have significant operations near the proposed park/gateway.

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