Supporters and critics of Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard’s proposals for a luxury hotel and a carousel are circulating online petitions detailing their positions.
Brainard announced in July that the city is considering an additional $101 million in debt through two bonds that would fund projects such as new roundabouts, pedestrian paths, improvements at Brookshire Golf Club, office or retail space in the parking garage planned for the Monon & Main development, utility work and several road improvements.
The bonds, which would be paid for by local income tax revenue and tax increment financing dollars, would also help fund a $38 million luxury hotel at City Center and purchase an antique, hand-carved carousel for as much as $5 million.
Tim Hannon, a Carmel resident and CEO of Healthcare Forward LLC, started a Change.org petition opposing the projects July 27. It had garnered 644 signatures as of Thursday morning.
Hannon said he had never started a petition before and has repeatedly supported the mayor and his ideas, but some of the projects listed in the proposal for $101 million in new bonds—specifically the hotel and carousel—made him raise his eyebrows.
“Are we carefully thinking about every dollar we’re spending?” Hannon said.
Brainard defended the spending in a presentation to the Carmel City Council last month, and often referred to previous successful projects the city spent money on, despite initial criticism, as proof that the city’s investments have paid off.
Hannon, a 19-year Carmel resident, said Brainard’s speech did not reassure him.
“Past success does not guarantee future success,” Hannon said. “Each new project needs to be carefully considered…. You can’t just point to the past.”
Henry Mestetsky, a Carmel Redevelopment Commission member and associate at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, disagrees. He started a Change.org petition in support of the projects earlier this week. As of Thursday morning, it had 137 signatures.
“All cities invest in amenities, to varying degrees of success, but Mayor Brainard has a track record of making the right bets,” Mestetsky wrote in the petition.
Mestetsky said a luxury hotel will lead to more private investments, which means more commercial taxes. A one-of-kind carousel will help the city continue to be a tourist destination, he said.
Hannon said he generally supports the idea of having a hotel at City Center and an antique carousel in the city, but he doesn’t believe public dollars need to be used.
“Why not make this a community effort? Why not get large and small donors to create a community foundation?” Hannon said about the carousel. “Putting the spending issue aside, the mayor is missing an opportunity to get community ownership in this.”
Mestetsky said he supports collecting private donations for the carousel, but doesn’t think those funds need to be secured prior to purchasing it.
“Donations, sponsorships and naming rights are a great way to help finance the carousel. They just can’t be a prerequisite, or nothing will ever get done,” Mestetsky said.
As for the hotel, Hannon said he thinks the city should accept a mid-level hotel instead of a luxury hotel because that seems to be what the private market would invest in.
“I would guess a lot of other people and petition signers agree with that,” Hannon said.
Mestetsky said he and Hannon both love Carmel, “we just disagree on how to help it prosper.”
Despite serving on the CRC, Mestetsky said there is no “secret gain” for him.
“I volunteer for the same reason I started the petition—I’m passionate about the growth of my city, and I support the mayor’s vision,” Mestetsky said.
The Carmel City Council is scheduled to discuss the bonds and the proposed projects at its meeting Monday, but a vote is not expected.