Noblesville OKs $6M park/gateway with amphitheater

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A divided Noblesville Common Council last week approved $6 million in funding for a downtown park/city gateway with an outdoor amphitheater—a project proponents say will spur economic development west of the White River.

Federal Hill is slated to be constructed on about six acres of flood plain just across the river from Noblesville’s “hipstoric” courthouse square, extending the downtown and giving the growing community a sense of place.

“This is the gateway to downtown,” Mayor John Ditslear told the council Nov. 11 when he asked for funding from the city’s Logan Street tax-increment financing district. “We need to have that ‘wow factor.’”

Officials have been working on Federal Hill for more than a year, but the city’s so-called Westside Gateway district has been eyed for growth since at least 2007. The recession stalled efforts to encourage commercial development, but leaders think the tide turning.

Three of the seven council members remained unconvinced, expressing concerns about the price tag and its impact on TIF funds available for other projects.

Noblesville collects about $2.7 million in property taxes from the TIF district each year, using $1.4 million to repay existing debts. Excess revenue funds the city’s façade-grant program, land acquisition—including the Federal Hill property—and other one-time expenses.

“My concern is everyone is pulling from that TIF,” Councilor Brian Ayer said before the Nov. 24 vote. “I just don’t want it to get too low.”

He also cited the expense, saying a $1-million-per-acre project cost for property in a flood plain “just bothers me.”

Councilors Rick Taylor and Steve Wood also voted against the funding request.

The administration’s $6 million proposal is a just-the-basics version of what was once a much more elaborate $10 million project. Plans were scaled back after the council balked at the cost during a public meeting in August.

Construction costs are estimated at $5.4 million, with optional upgrades on the drawing board if funds become available. Councilor Jeff Zeckel, who voted in favor of the project, suggested naming rights and sponsorships as an untapped source of revenue.

Project leaders still need to figure out how to pay for a $2 million pedestrian bridge connecting Federal Hill to the RiverWalk recreational path the city and county are collaborating on along the eastern riverbank. That project has some federal funding.

Ditslear said officials at neighboring Kroger Co. and Riverview Health support the project. Noblesville Main Street leader Chris Owens likewise sees the park’s potential.

“I see it as an opportunity to create a new and unique space for community events and engagement,” said Owens, who runs the not-for-profit civic group and lives nearby on Conner Street. “This can set the direction for future development in Noblesville.”

An outdoor plaza included in the basic Federal Hill plans also is envisioned as a possible home for the Main Street-run farmers market, now held across State Road 32 in a Riverview parking lot.

Site work at Federal Hill is expected to begin next spring.

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