When Mayor Andy Cook looks back at his time in office spanning four terms, there’s been plenty of growth along the way – both in population and various developments that have propelled Westfield into the spotlight.
The longtime Republican mayor, who has led Westfield since 2008 and has been its only mayor, recently announced he would not run for a fifth term that will now leave Indiana’s fastest-growing city in new hands starting next year. Cook said he initially had no intention of ever becoming a mayor, but noted he was inspired to run by a few elected officials.
Among them, he said, was Carmel’s Republican Mayor Jim Brainard, who is also stepping away from government later this year. Brainard has led Carmel as its mayor since 1996, and Cook gave credit to Brainard for his friendship.
“It’s all about placemaking. No one’s been better at that than Jim Brainard,” Cook said.
Cook also acknowledged he didn’t anticipate staying in office this long and has seen Westfield grow from a small farming community to a city that now has more than 50,000 residents.
“I quietly learned that if you want to get everything done, you can’t do it in one term,” Cook said.
Cook, however, doesn’t take all the credit for Westfield’s success and continued growth through the years. He previously worked in the private sector before entering politics.
“It’s like running a business – it’s only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” Cook said.
Cook gave credit to the city’s employees within 10 to 12 departments in playing a role in Westfield’s success, in addition to having a comprehensive plan and a transportation plan, both of which have been updated through the years. He said sticking to those plans “has really been the key to our success.”
Grand Park, Grand Junction Plaza projects
During his time in office, Cook helped spearhead the creation of the Grand Park Sports Campus, a 400-acre complex that serves as the training camp for the Indianapolis Colts. It has 31 soccer fields, 26 baseball diamonds, two administration buildings, seven concession stands and a 378,000-square-foot multi-use event center.
Cook noted his opinion for why Grand Park, which opened in 2014, was needed in Westfield.
“The reason was to create something that the city didn’t have, and that was a strong commercial tax base,” he said.
Cook said the idea was to create an industry in Westfield tied to tourism that the city eventually built on. The park now attracts thousands of visitors each year, and although the city owes nearly $80 million for the complex, Cook said he wouldn’t change a thing and pointed to the fact that the complex made $8 million last year in gross revenue, with $6 million tied to operational expenses, minus its debt.
In 2022, the city sent out requests for proposals regarding the facility, which is owned by the Westfield Redevelopment Commission, and received seven from entities across the U.S. A six-member panel will eventually make a recommendation to the Westfield City Council and the city’s Redevelopment Commission regarding the proposals.
Cook said there are five possible scenarios that could occur: A sale, a public-private partnership, management-only, a combination of the first three options or doing nothing. He added that in the next couple of months, he hopes to introduce options on how to proceed and possible proposals for consideration, although negotiations are expected to take months.
In the meantime, Cook lauded Grand Park and how it has benefited Westfield, noting that it has created $1 billion in new investment within the city.
“Right now, this place is on top of the world,” he said.
Besides Grand Park, Cook was also instrumental in the creation of Grand Junction Plaza, which opened in December 2021. Cook said that to make Westfield a place where people wanted to be, Grand Junction Plaza was “a necessary investment” for the city.
In addition, Cook also created the Westfield Youth Assistance Program in 2009. It serves as an early intervention advocate for youth ages 3 to 17 who face challenging life circumstances and has helped reduce the number of kids entering the judicial center by half.
Facing other public challenges
Cook has also been in the public spotlight for other reasons, as well. At times, he has been at odds with members of the Westfield City Council, while Cook and Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Gossard have filed lawsuits against each other. Cook said those public dealings have put the city in a negative light.
Cook said he does not take responsibility for those issues and pointed to what he described as a “lack of respect and civility” by the council. He added that the city has “suffered from a lack of communication.”
“I have a track record of 12 years before that, that we didn’t have any of that and we made a lot of progress,” Cook said.
Cook’s term ends in December, and three candidates – Republicans Kristen Burkman, Jake Gilbert and Scott Willis – are vying to become the city’s next mayor and will be on the May 2 primary ballot. Cook offered some advice to those individuals and said he would like to continue building on what the city has.
“I think that’s what I hear from the candidates, ‘In my own way, I want to continue what we’re doing,’” Cook said.
Cook said the city faces some important challenges, including managing its future growth while continuing to attract top companies to Westfield.
“I believe we helped lay the groundwork for the next administration to continue this important work on behalf of our current and future citizens,” he said.
Cook also noted what he wants his legacy to be for Westfield.
“I want it to be that you’ve got to look beyond the things that we’ve built, and we’ve got to look at a culture of people and people that we create,” he said. “It’s all about people – it’s about the friendliness of our people, how we voluntarily take care of people in need, even in a very conservative Republican government.”
What others say about Cook’s leadership
- Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard: “Andy represents the best in public service. A compassionate leader who understands that great cities aren’t just made of bricks and mortar. They are places that help educate, nurture, and enrich the lives of their citizens. He’s been a valued colleague, and I know his commitment and dedication to Westfield will be greatly missed.”
- Mayoral candidate Kristen Burkman: “I want to sincerely thank Mayor Cook for his 16 years of public service to the Westfield community. His vision to build one of the nation’s top youth sports parks, Grand Park, will be a lasting legacy of his leadership for years to come. I wish the mayor and his wife, Barb, all the best in life’s next journey.”
- Westfield Washington Public Library Director Sheryl Sollars: “He’s always been a great supporter of the library. He’s been a great leader for Westfield.”