Conner Prairie continues to refine development plans on Carmel property


Plans for the westward expansion of Conner Prairie amenities into Carmel continue to evolve as the living history museum works with neighbors and city officials to refine the project. 

CIC COM 0530 Conner Prairie PUD
Development on Conner Prairie’s property in Carmel is divided into two zones. (Image from documents filed with the City of Carmel)

The proposed expansion in Carmel is divided into two zones, with the northern zone operating as a ticketed museum area that includes food, farm and energy exhibits; a modern farm; trails; a pedestrian bridge over the White River; and other amenities. The southern zone is proposed to include the White River Education Center, eco-lodge, office building, restaurant and more. 

“Conner Prairie is trying to create something really special, something that exemplifies innovation and an eye toward the future but also links back toward the past,” said Aaron Kowalski, a planner with MKSK who has been heavily involved with the project. 

Conner Prairie owns more than 1,000 acres that straddle the White River south of 146th Street, with all existing development east of the river in Fishers. It has requested a rezone of its land west of the river, which is in Carmel, to a planned unit development, meaning development guidelines would be specific to the site. 

The Carmel Plan Commission committee as a whole met May 23 to discuss the proposed PUD. Conner Prairie has made several changes to the proposed PUD since filing it with the city in August 2022, including reducing the number of rooms in the eco-lodge from 140 to 70, increasing setbacks from nearby neighborhoods and adding a cap on non-museum uses in the office building. 

Commissioners asked for additional modifications, including a request to consider relocating the eco-lodge, which is currently proposed directly across River Road from Prairie Trace Elementary. Kowalski said the project team will discuss it. 

John Reinhardt, who lives in The Overlook at Legacy neighborhood just north of the elementary school, attended the meeting and told Current May 24 he would prefer the eco-lodge and office building, which he described as “out of context” for the area, be moved east of the river. He’s also concerned about increased congestion on nearby roads and a potential lengthy construction timeline. 

“The bottom line is we don’t want to look at a hotel or a lodging facility, nor do we want the constant in-and-out traffic that’s going to congest things more,” Reinhardt said. “It changes the nature of our living experience.” 

Commissioner Josh Kirsh asked the petitioner to consider additional improvements to pedestrian connectivity along River Road and urged planners not to “dumb down” the project. 

“I think that we should be bold. I think we should be adventurous,” he said. “I think we should recognize we’re providing a legacy project to our community.” 

Project planners will use feedback from the meeting and additional input from the community to continue modifying the proposed project. The PUD is expected to be discussed by the committee as a whole again before eventually going back to the full plan commission for a vote. The Carmel City Council will have the final vote on the PUD.