By Robert Annis
Although Hamilton County has not escaped unscathed from the current recession, its cities and towns seemingly have weathered it better than most of its municipal peers. While good economic news was often hard to find in 2011, several fiscally ambitious projects appeared last year.
Westfieldbreaks ground on Grand Park
Observers could be excused for thinking Westfield might balk at moving forward with its $45-million youth sports complex in the current economy. But state and local officials broke ground on the 350-acre project in November, and interesting developments have followed.
The 350-acre development on 191st Street one-half mile west of U.S. 31 will feature 26 baseball and softball diamonds and 32 football, soccer and field hockey fields when construction is completed next year. Officials believe the project will spur development of the surrounding 1,400 acres of farm fields and have an estimated economic impact of more than $18 million.
Westfield Spokeswoman Carrie Cason said some playing fields will be open this year and reach full capacity by 2013. The Indiana Soccer Association will likely bring events featuring their 80,000 members to Grand Park, and will manage and operate all non-baseball sports at the facility.
Although the first game has yet to be played, the development has already attracted some investment. Mainstreet Property Group LLC will begin construction of a $13.3 million, 65,000 square-foot senior health care center near Grand Park. The facility will employ 150 people when it opens in 2012.
Cason didn’t say when officials expect the surrounding area to achieve build out, only that the speed of development should increase as the park begins to take shape.
The size of the investment has some residents worried. A potential hiccup occurred days after the groundbreaking, when Ripken Baseball – a sort of high-end Babe Ruth league fronted by Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. -- disclosed they were considering expanding to Indianapolis and seeking partners to build an envisioned $20 million, 60-acre facility. Both Ripken Baseball and Westfield officials downplayed any rivalry between the two projects, but it remains to be seen if there will be any conflict.
“Their facility would just be baseball, and we see it more as a complement to what will be offered at Grand Park,” Cason said. “It could actually become a true asset for us, helping us turn the entire area into a sports destination.”
Brainard’s grand vision sees light in Carmel
Since his first election in 1996, Carmel Mayor James Brainard has promised a grand downtown for his constituents. In 2006, ground was broken and in 2011, he finally delivered as the $400 million Carmel City Center was officially unveiled.
The product of a public-private partnership with Pedcor, Carmel City Center is “different from your traditional office setting,” said Marketing Director Michelle Krcmery. “It’s a live, work, play environment that businesses want to offer their employees. They have direct access to the Monon (Greenway), lots of entertainment and dining options nearby … It’s a place people want to work.”
Krcmery said the office section of City Center is fully booked with the addition of law firm Drewry Simmons Vornehm and Software Engineering Professionals and their combined 114 employees, while the retail space is more than 60 percent full. It’s not believed any of the businesses received any major economic concessions from Carmel to move into the facility.
Nearby apartments, opened in 2010, are more than 85 percent occupied.
But, despite Brainard’s best efforts, controversy remained around the project’s centerpiece, the $175-million Center for the Performing Arts. Former CEO Steven Libman asked for double the expected subsidy from the city -- $4 million – before resigning in disgrace after he was allegedly bankrolling an affair with a subordinate with taxpayer dollars. New CEO Frank Basile has been promising to release an internal audit of the Performing Arts Center since September, but as of Dec. 22, hadn’t complied.
Noblesville Opens for Business
Offering several major businesses incentives to expand and a new small-business loan program in place, Noblesville made an aggressive play to attract investment last year.
In the budding months of 2011, the Noblesville City Council moved forward with a plan to start a loan guarantee program that would aid small business owners’ attempts to secure financing. Say a business owner needed $100,000 to get a project off the ground, but qualified only for $85,000 from a bank. The city could guarantee payment of the remaining amount , assuming he or she is accepted into the program, goes through business counseling and pays a $200 fee.
For every $25,000 the city guarantees, the business must add at least one job.
The guarantee can't exceed 20 percent of the total loan amount, and the business owner must have at least 5 percent cash equity invested in the business.
"The bank is still taking about 80 percent of the risk," city attorney Mike Howard said at the time. "It's not like anyone walking off the street will be eligible."
City Spokeswoman Cara Culp said no businesses have applied for the program yet, but anticipated the floodgates could open in 2012.
“Six different Indiana communities who already have existing programs and they all cautioned that getting the first application off the ground is difficult but that after that, applications will start coming in due to good press and word of mouth,” Culp said. “Economic Development will be reaching out to loan officers and underwriters in Noblesville in addition to following up and talking again with Noblesville bank branch managers as a way to spread awareness about the program.”
Noblesville used other incentives to encourage several local businesses to expand and entice another company into relocating to the city, but at least one deal is likely to fall through.
Industrial Dielectrics – which has two other locations in the U.S., as well as factories in the United Kingdom, China, Mexico and several other countries -- had considered moving its world headquarters to another location until it was granted a pair of tax abatements worth about $600,000 to expand its South Seventh Street location. The company promised to spend $4.2 million to build a new headquarters and add 33 jobs.
RMI, formerly Rochester Medical Implants, moved its 28 employees into a new facility on the Corporate Campus, while SMC Corporation received more than $5.5 million of personal property tax abatements that will help bring in 28 new jobs with an average wage of $48,256.
Last summer, Noblesville offered $6.7 million in tax incentives to nuclear medicine company Positron, who announced plans to build a $55 million facility on the Corporate Campus. The plant would bring 80 to 85 jobs with average annual salaries exceeding $80,000. But in November, the Securities and Exchange Commissionfiled fraud charges against the company’s CEO, Patrick Rooney, alleging he illegally funneled $3.6 million from a management company into Positron, without properly notifying investors of his relationship with the latter company.
Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear was disappointed, but claimed the city was in the clear; no financial incentives were promised until after Positron reached $42 million or more in new investments.
Fishers Goes to the Doctor
Medical facilities continue to spring up in Fishers, with one hospital opening and another medical facility beginning an expansion.
In December, the $270-million Indiana University Health Saxony opened just off exit 10. The new 250,000-square-foot hospital and medical office building employs 250 workers in the cardiovascular, orthopedics, spinal care and emergency care fields.
The hospital currently holds 42 beds, but IU Health officials anticipate massive growth in the coming years; the building’s footprint allows for the addition of more than 300 beds. Dr. Philip Dulberger, CEO and chief medical officer at IU Health Saxony Hospital, said there’s no timetable on future expansion.
“The needs and growth of the community will dictate the expansion of services and space within the hospital,” said Dulberger. “Our current focus continues to be providing specialized services … as well as to offer the community local access to nationally ranked care at Indiana University Health.”
When it opens, it will be the only full-service hospital in Fishers, but not for long. In October, workers began construction of a 110,000-square-foot expansion of St. Vincent Health Medical Center Northeast. Upon its completion in 2013, the facility will be a full-fledged, inpatient hospital with more than 40 beds.
St. Vincent Spokesman Johnny Smith wasn’t able to give a specific cost of the expansion, but the hospital chain isn’t likely to skimp. Befitting the Hamilton County clientele, the hospital will feature various spa-like amenities, indoor and outdoor dining, and convenient 24-hour room service for patients.
The expansion is expected to create 200 new jobs.