Carmel committee OKs $25M bond but requires council approval of land acquisitions

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A proposed $25 million bond to fund land acquisition for future redevelopment, roundabout art, a light show on the Midtown water tower and other projects is heading back to the Carmel City Council with a favorable recommendation on April 27 from the council’s finance committee. The council is set to vote on the bonds, which will be repaid through tax increment financing, at its May 3 meeting.

The largest allocation — $13.4 million — is to purchase sites being eyed by the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, primarily in the Arts & Design District, Midtown, City Center and Home Place. The bond language doesn’t require the funds to be used to purchase specific properties, but earlier this year city councilors received a list — which was not released publicly — of 26 potential parcels ranging in estimated price from $16,000 to $3.7 million.

Aasen

Because the funds aren’t tied to specific projects, councilor and finance committee member Adam Aasen proposed an amendment that would require land purchases using bond funds to come before the city council for a vote. The committee approved the amendment.

“This is not a blank check. This is transparency,” Aasen said April 29. “Everything in this bond has been out and open in the public and thoroughly vetted. Property acquisition is going to be out and open in the public.”

Currently, council members are notified when the CRC plans to purchase property, and any councilor can request the purchase come before the council for a final vote. The proposed amendment will make a council vote automatic for properties associated with the bond.

Aasen said he may have voted against the bonds if his amendment was not approved. In February, Aasen, whose family owned Donatello’s Italian Restaurant in the Arts & Design District at the time, had strong reservations about some of the proposed sites on the land acquisition list because they included “desirable properties” full of small businesses that might have trouble finding another affordable place in Carmel if displaced.

Mayor Jim Brainard

Brainard

The building that housed Donatello’s and several other small businesses was one of the sites on the list presented to council, but in February, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said it was no longer on the table.

“We’ve made the decision not to proceed with property acquisition (of those buildings) at this time,” Brainard said. “Those are very, very old buildings, and they’re at the end of their useful life. I’d anticipate the owners would want to see them redeveloped at some point in the future, but that is not property that the city is going to pursue if the property acquisition part of the TIF bond is approved.”

Aasen, whose restaurant closed April 3 after more than 10 years in business, said he’s had open and honest conversations with Brainard and Carmel Redevelopment Commission Director Henry Mestetsky as councilors reviewed the bonds during the past few months, which led — along with approval of his amendment — to his decision to support the bonds.

The process has even led to improved trust with city officials, Aasen said. Shortly after he took office in January 2020, the city announced that Hotel Carmichael, which it developed with Pedcor Companies, was going to cost 46 percent more than estimated when the council approved its funding. Aasen said that led to some lost trust with the Brainard administration.

Not so this time around, he said.

“I think this process went really well,” he said. “Maybe it’s gone a long way to repair some of the trust from the Hotel Carmichael (issue).”

Other items included in the $25 million bond are:

  • Carmel Clay Historical Society expansion — $2.5 million
  • Water tower light display — $1.5 million
  • Electronic information kiosks — $650,000
  • CPAC interior signage — $225,000
  • Tarkington garage improvements — $720,000
  • Sophia Square garage improvements — $200,000
  • 96th Street roundabout art by Arlon Bayliss — $2.5 million
  • Zotec roundabout art — $500,000
  • Roundabout landscaping — $1 million
  • Land acquisition — $13,440,000

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