Commentary by Dan McFeely
When a city is so well loved and respected by its own residents – and other cities throughout the country – it is understandably difficult for political opposition candidates to come up with reasons for people to vote against the current mayor and council members.
They try to focus on the city’s investments, calling into question certain amenities that make Carmel stand out among suburban cities – things like our Arts & Design District, the Palladium and Monon Greenway, to name a few.
They forget – and I am here to remind you – that Mayor Jim Brainard has done much more than that. Prior to my career change after 25 years in journalism, when I left that industry and began working with the mayor and all those at City Hall, I also did not truly understand.
I’ve come to learn that the mayor has done what every city in America must do: Invest in its infrastructure in order to improve the quality of life, keep its residents safe and (perhaps most importantly) keep our taxes low by attracting big commercial-tax paying companies.
People who lived in Old Town back in the early 1990s will recall how bad the infrastructure was – drainage issues, flooding, sidewalks were either broken or non-existent. Long before he erected the decorative arches that define the vibrant Arts & Design District, the mayor fixed the infrastructure in Old Town. He cleaned up the area so that local residents could once again take pride in their neighborhoods and perhaps Main Street could become a busy place again.
Take a walk down Main Street just about any night of the week – and especially on the weekends. We have what so many cities and towns in Indiana (and throughout the Midwest) would love to have: A busy, vibrant district that is chock full of successful small businesses, art galleries, restaurants and pubs. It is also home to hundreds of residents – soon to be thousands – who keep those businesses booming and keep this most crucial part of our central corridor alive and well.
I have covered Indiana city government from Connersville to Brookville, Liberty to Greenfield, Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Noblesville and Zionsville. I’ve witnessed many attempts to breathe life into a dying downtown.
Trust me, what happened here in Carmel was not by chance. Nor was it a result of where are boundaries are fixed. If you think that is the case, I invite you to visit other suburban cities that continue to struggle with their downtowns. Many of them, by the way, are starting to follow Carmel’s lead by partnering with private businesses, investing in themselves and (gasp) even building roundabouts.
Mayor Brainard also recognized that the city needed to provide other vital services, which is why he has built one of the best city street departments in the nation. You wonder how good our street department is? How was your winter driving experience the last few months? These guys are quick to keep our roads clear and safe, and they patch potholes as quick as they emerge.
This does not happen by accident. The mayor chose the right leadership and directed the proper amount of money to make sure they have had the tools to get the job done. That is what a strong civic leader does.
Carmel has built a strong water and wastewater utility system, one that other communities envy because of our low monthly utility bills and a well-designed system that ensure our residents have plenty of clean, pure drinking water, even during the worst of summer droughts.
Now about those other big investments. Yes, we have invested in things that have elevated our quality of life. Parks, bike trails, festivals, green spaces, entertainment venues and special events all year around.
There is a strategy behind that. We know that in today’s high-tech economy, the best and brightest companies and the labor force they need have many options when choosing a place to launch their careers. They weigh many factors before landing in a place to raise families, with safe neighborhoods and excellent schools.
We know that the traditional suburb where you have to drive everywhere, sit through long stop lights and four-way stops – not to mention drive 20 miles just to get a good meal or see a show – are losing the battle for corporate jobs.
On the other hand, Carmel is winning.
We continue to attract major companies to Carmel, bringing with them thousands of new, high-paying jobs over the past four years. These are real jobs with real people who make real good money, which they spend at our local businesses.
Oh, and they pay real taxes. So much in corporate taxes, that we are able to keep our residential property taxes among the lowest in Indiana. This combination of low taxes and high-quality amenities has made Carmel’s housing market extremely buzzworthy. So many people are looking for homes to buy in Carmel that people selling their homes are getting top prices and the homes spend very little time on the market.
Ask any real estate professional in Carmel and they will tell you.
Carmel is a growing, progressive community that welcomes and respects people of all cultures, backgrounds and faiths. We are unlike many suburbs in that we embrace our diversity and celebrate our differences.
Why would we want to go backwards?
But that is what the opposition would have us do.
They did not want the Monon Trail because they feared for their safety and that their home values would suffer. They were wrong. The exact opposite has happened and people are paying up to $1 million for the privilege to live along the Monon Greenway.
They did not want the Palladium and the Center for the Performing Arts. But these world-class facilities have helped lift our quality of life by providing experiences that one used to have to drive to downtown Indianapolis or Chicago to experience. And they are attracting thousands of tourists to the City, people who stay in our hotels, shop in our stores and dine in our locally-owned restaurants.
They did not want our roundabouts. Too dangerous, they said (and some continue to say) despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Again, they were wrong then and they are wrong now.
They did not want our Monon Community Center. It was too expensive and needed too much subsidy in its first few years. It is now more than self-sufficient and has become a centerpiece in what has been recognized nationally as one of the best park systems in the U.S.
There have been so many things that the opposition has not wanted. They have focused so much of their passionate arguments on spending (we call it investing) in our city, even though professional researchers from Indiana University have run the numbers and shown that such investments have led to millions more in private investments – corporate investments that would never have been made in Carmel, had the city not first laid the groundwork to bring them here.
I invite you stop reading the comments on social media and to instead take a look around our city.
Our streets are in great shape. Our police and fire departments are excellent. Our neighborhoods are safe. Our schools are excellent. We have the best health care opportunities in Indiana. Our taxes are low. The city balances its budget every year. The city has millions of dollars left in the bank every year. The city never does “deficit spending” as the opposition claims (they are confusing us with Washington).
Bottom line: Carmel is a city that works because our mayor and city council have worked to make it that way. Progress does not just happen by chance. It takes leadership to make the right decisions to fulfill a vision that works.
Dan McFeely is a Carmel resident and contractor with the City of Carmel’s Economic Development & Community Relations Dept.