By Ann Marie Shambaugh
Kay and AJ Sangani have woven themselves into the fabric of the community as the owners of Smart Stop Cleaners for the last eight years. In addition to serving a loyal customer base, the couple washes the uniforms for the Carmel police and fire departments as well as the baby laundry from St.Vincent Hospital at their Carmel shop.
But with plans to tear down the shopping center that houses their business at the southwest corner of 116th Street and Range Line Road and replace it with a mixed-use development, their future is uncertain.
“I’d like to stay, but if they demolish it I cannot stay here,” AJ Sangani said, adding that he cannot afford to relocate temporarily during construction.
Smart Stop’s lease expired in 2015, Sangani said, but landlord Kite Realty has been renewing it on a month-to-month basis as it develops plans for The Corner, a proposed five-story mixed-use development with more than 200 new residential units.
The Carmel City Council approved rezoning of the site in November 2016, but the project has slowed since then, with architectural drawings shown through the rezoning process not matching original plans presented to the mayor and Carmel Redevelopment Commission.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said in November 2016 that he expected developers to move quickly on the project. He stated April 18 that the project is not on hold and that Kite is “negotiating several issues.”
Officials from Kite declined to comment on the status of The Corner.
Kite Realty has been de-leasing the shopping center in the last two years. The increasing vacancies have been an additional hurdle for business, Sangani said, with fewer people having reasons to visit the shopping center.
Of the few remaining businesses, BMO Harris Bank is in the lone freestanding building on the site, and Regional President of Retail Banking Brad Smith said the branch is in discussions with Kite about its future.
“We view Carmel as an important market for us and are engaged in conversations with the local developer at the Range Line corner to explore the opportunity to expand our services and value to our customers and the overall Carmel community,” he said.
Michael Shuel, owner of MacKenzie River Pizza, Grill & Pub, said that “the project remains fluid.”
In November, Brainard said the restaurant was expected to reopen in the new development, but Shuel did not confirm that.
As for Smart Stop Cleaners, a one-time move is expected to cost between $70,000 and $80,000, Sangani said. And that’s only if he can find a location in Carmel that will allow for a drycleaner, as such businesses are only permitted in a few zoning districts without a variance approval.
“Drycleaning is like a restricted (use),” Sangani said. “In the past they used a kind of chemical we don’t use, but still we have to get approval from the city and state.”
Sangani, an Avon resident, has had discussions about relocating to a site approximately 1 mile north, but if that doesn’t work out he may be forced to leave town. He’s waiting for Kite to give him a 60-day notice in advance of demolition.
“I am willing to stay in Carmel, because I have very loyal customers,” he said. “They love us, and we love them, and I want to serve them.”