City, schools approve deal for new football stadium and economic development
Standing in the back of the over capacity crowd of Westfield City Hall on May 12 was Pam Kainrath, parent of a Westfield senior, sophomore and first-grader. Wearing a green T-shirt, Kainrath held a sign with two shamrocks and one word – YES. Kainrath’s poster summed up the support and emotion many residents felt about the future realized through a partnership between the schools, city and local developers.
For $2.5 million, the city is turning school land at the northeast corner of U.S. 31 and Ind. 32 into assessed value and taxes. The funding allows the district to accelerate its timetable to sell 9.6 acres to developers, build a new football stadium behind Westfield High School and provide the city with a new tax base, projected as at least $40 million.
Reaction and the need
Council President Jim Ake said he received almost 300 positive responses about the project since its proposal on April 28 and just one negative email, which did not state a reason why.
“I don’t know of a better win-win than this,” he said. “We can help them without any tax dollars being spent. Our investment will be returned to us in full and can be used later for other projects in the future. Who wins in this? I think it is our school system, our business community, the construction worker, the taxpayer and I think it is every Westfield citizen of any age.”
Councilor Steve Hoover said 95 percent of his e-mails gave detailed reasons why the public supported the partnership.
“I felt like the people were more informed on this issue than most issues we’ve ever done. I see no reason why this issue is not a win-win for everyone,” he said.
WHS freshmen football players Justin Frey and Caleb Sanburn said the support about the new stadium was just as strong as the team’s run to the state championship in November.
“I think it’s great. I’m super excited,” Frey said.
The players said the field, which is used by all teams, is in rough shape.
“It’s complete trash, it’s terrible,” Sanburn said. “When it rains it is a mud pit.”
“One muddy game on there and it’s done,” Frey said.
Josh Miracle, assistant football coach and girls’ track and field coach, said IHSAA officials have informed him the track was “not really equipped to hold meets.” Miracle said this year a Noblesville pole-vaulter broke a leg, a middle school hurdle fell on her face from protruding concrete and a meet against Fishers High School was canceled because the entire start line was under water. The distance to the facility from the high school is also an issue for students and in case of injuries.
“It takes 20 minutes to jog or ride over to the track. That equates to 13 days over the year,” he said.
Football coach Jake Gilbert said his team and the community can reach higher to make Westfield a world-class city.
“There are so many things we do in the community to bring people together, but never are there more people together than there are at a high school football game,” he said. “I think it was a necessity. It’s huge for the future of Westfield in terms of meeting our full potential. They did what’s best for the city and schools. I’m so proud of our government for doing that.”
Gilbert said the current grass field is overused, but the new artificial field could host more events for all sports, clubs and student organizations. While the stadium is not expected to be complete until the 2015 track and field season, hopes are to play some football games at the new stadium this fall.
“We hope some football games will be played there this fall. Not in August but some playoff games,” Keen said, adding games will remain at the current stadium until the new one is built.
“I’d love our seniors to get an opportunity to play on it,” Gilbert said. “Either way, it is going to be great. It’s not a dream, it’s a reality.”
The current stadium opened in the fall of 1950, according to longtime Westfield resident Judith Stanley Shuck. It was built by the WHS Lettermen Club after funds were raised from weekly fish fries. Shuck said bleachers and lights were added as needed and in 1988 the stadium was built with new lighting, asphalt, press box, concession stand and stadium seats.
“There will be a place for our history; it will not be forgotten,” WHS Athletic Director Bill Davis said, adding the project was 18 years in the making. “When the high school was brand new, there were future plans to get the stadium underway. In the past six to eight years it became a huge need for our kids.”
The new stadium, which will have one major entrance shared with the soccer field, provides a better experience to players and fans and improves safety and supervision of young students.
“We simply meet the Westfield needs and did not worry about any comparisons,” Davis said. “With Grand Park and Grand Junction, we’re poised to add to our 10 state championship rings.”
WHS Principal Stacy McGuire said that something special is happening within her building and if the council invested in her students, they would not disappoint them.
“They excel inside and outside of the classroom,” she said. “I want the very best for my kids because they deserve it.”
McGuire, a WHS graduate, said the field her father played on in 1953 was “no longer adequate for these kids today.”
“It’s disgraceful. It’s not about keeping up with the Jones’, it’s about providing our kids with something better,” she said. “I tell my kids great moments come from great opportunity. Have you had a greater moment to address our kids since you came on the board?”
‘The Junction’ development
A group of Westfield developers have proposed a project called “The Junction” for the 14 acres that is currently home to the stadium, track, baseball fields and administration building. The signature gateway of U.S. 31 and Ind. 32 will include a medical office building, family entertainment center, hotel/meeting space, retail and fitness center.
“It’s another option to serve our visiting guests of Grand Park,” said Randy Zentz of Westfield Community Investors, LLC. “We are very aware of the high profile intersection as the signature gateway.”
Newly formed, WCI participants are Westfield residents, business owners and others who formed for the purpose of being long-term investors in Westfield property, with the school property as its only focus at this time.
“We see an opportunity for that property not only to generate significant new tax revenue for the city and schools, but also to meet retail (restaurant and related services), medical and meeting space needs of students, parents, nearby residents and the entire Westfield community,” Zentz said.
Zentz said the project includes five buildings on the area west of Shamrock Boulevard and three on the east side which will be developed at a later date. The Westside development includes two medical offices with mixed use including retail and restaurants on the first floor and office space and studios on the upper levels. The hotel, which could be the first in Westfield, is preferred to have large meeting space available to the public. The two other buildings include a standalone catering/meeting place and a large indoor family entertainment center with miniature golf, arcade, games and restaurant.
Zentz said the project is estimated to provide $40 to $50 million of assessed value as well as numerous jobs to the city. WCI envisions construction beginning in 2015, or as otherwise determined by the school’s ability to relocate to new facilities.
Councilor Rob Stokes said “The Junction” project faces two conditions with its rezoning request: no tax abatements or fee waivers would be accepted and any owners, tenants and developers would be for profit.
“We include this because of the money being paid substantially up front,” he said.
A ‘win-win’ scenario
The idea is simple – the city uses non-taxpayer funds to invest in future assessed value.
“You will start getting back your investment within two-and-a-half to three years and then will be going forward with additional revenue,” Westfield Washington Schools Supt. Dr. Mark Keen said. “The $2.5 million does not build a stadium. It gets us off the ground so the land can be developed.”
Earlier this year, the district agreed to sell 14 acres just east of the U.S. 31-Ind. 32 interchange to a group of local Westfield investors. Verhoff said the 4.5 acres east of Shamrock Boulevard is where the administration office is located. He said the district has the ability to remain in that space for five more years.
“It’s not a handout or a gift,” said Nick Verhoff, WWS executive director of business and operations. “This is economic development in the purest sense. It regenerates itself.”
Mayor Andy Cook said funding for the project will come from the proceeds of the utility sale. He said the city would pay $1.5 million now and the other $1 million “when vertical improvements have begun.”
“It is very interesting and rewarding to see so many people get behind this,” he said. “What was so enlightening was having our council work with our school board. It really shows what cooperation in government agencies can do.”
By the numbers
$2.5 million – The city of Westfield will provide the school district with $1.5 million now and another $1 million once vertical improvements from developers have been made on the current football field area.
14.1 acres – Westfield Washington Schools has agreed to sell 9.6 acres west of Shamrock Boulevard and 4.5 east of the roadway. The larger portion will be transferred to a group of local Westfield developers once the new stadium is built. The district has the option of staying on the smaller portion, which houses the administration office, for the next five years.
$6 million – WWS will sell the 9.6-acre property for $4 million and the 4.5-acre lot for $2 million.
$1.3 million – The amount Westfield Washington Schools began the “Build the Rock” campaign with from the refinancing of bonds. He added that the stadium
$7.5 million – The goal for the “Build the Rock” campaign to build the new stadium, locker rooms and main entrance, which will be shared with the existing soccer field.
0 – The total of taxpayer dollars that will be spent on this project.
5,000 – Number of seats at the new community stadium.
300 – Officials estimate more than 300 events a year could be held on the new artificial turf.
$40 million – Assessed value increase “The Junction” project is estimated to bring the city.