City ends Federal Hill debate, planning moves forward
The long debate for funding Federal Hill – and the correct title for the project – is over as officials begin the next phase for Noblesville’s next city park.
A divided Noblesville Common Council approved funding $6 million on Nov. 25 for the city’s first park since Dillon Park opened seven years ago.
“I’m very happy Federal Hill got approved. It’s more than a park,” Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear said. “One of the results of Federal Hill is to extend our downtown to the west, which has been a goal for a long time. It helps make the (White) river more of an asset than a liability. It meets at least 10 and maybe more goals of the comprehensive plan which was created by our citizens and people do want this park.”
Going into the vote, the council was tied at three apiece, leaving the stalemate in the hands of Common Council President Mark Boice.
“My business background makes me look at these projects through a fiscal lens, as well as looking at the best interest of the city,” he said. “Up until today, I didn’t see the financial numbers to prove there’s a cash flow to cover the park and the land acquisition. City attorney Mike Howard provided a full fiscal plan and cash analysis on Nov. 24 that made me feel more comfortable about the cash flow of the project, which the project had lacked prior.”
Boice said he thinks the entire council is in favor of the project, but councilors had a cost number in mind that they would not approve above.
“I think it was the amount that concerns people and the lack of fiscal plans and potential for land,” he said. “I’m glad we did have a majority and can move forward. I think it will be a great amenity for the city and a great gateway.”
Councilors Steve Wood, Rick Taylor and Brian Ayers each expressed concern about the price tag and its impact on TIF funds available for other projects. The city collects approximately $2.7 million in property taxes from the TIF district each year and uses $1.4 million to repay existing debts. Excess revenue is used to fund the city’s façade-grant program, land acquisition and other one-time expenses.
“My concern is everyone is pulling at the TIF and that TIF’s been pulled for years on everything and I just don’t want it to get too low,” Ayers said. “Other opportunities are going to come along and it’ll take economic development three to four years to come along.”
The city has already paid $900,000 to acquire the land for the park, which is not included in the $6 million funding recently approved by the council.
“We purchased the ground and could leave it as a floodable area. We really want to make an impact and we’re utilizing a park to accomplish that end,” Deputy Mayor Mike Hendricks said.
Noblesville Parks Director Brandon Bennett said the park has endless possibilities from symphony concerts to fitness classes, garage sales to ticketed events and special events like weddings and corporate retreats. Plans also call for traditional events to move there like the farmers market, Shakespeare in the Park, summer concert series and outdoor movie series.
“The way this facility is designed, we expect it to just explode,” he said. “We’re being resourceful to create what the community’s envisioned. Even with the cuts, we still have a great project. If people had just seen this project for the first time, they would have said, ‘Wow, that’s great.’”
Bennett said the project has room to grow and add removed features at a later time.
“We designed it and are building it with the idea to expand,” he said.
One of the arguments for the project is its ability to extend downtown into an underdeveloped portion of the city.
“It’s an opportunity to better brand and use the western side of the river leading into downtown,” said Chris Owens, Old Town resident and Noblesville Main Street director. “It could really set the direction of future development in the City of Noblesville. I think that is really the key as we talk about what is happening in our community.”
Officials said the park would significantly improve the city’s west gateway.
“There’s got to be something. Something has to start that change or else it will look the same for 15 to 20 years,” Hendricks said.
The estimated economic benefit for the city would be approximately $1.3 to $1.6 million annually, with a return on investment between six and 8.5 years. Surrounding properties to the park are estimated to see a 12 to 15 percent property value increase with its completion. It is also expected to create more private development in the area.
“I know Federal Hill is going to spur economic development,” Ditslear said.
If two restaurants and two buildings were constructed around Federal Hill, Ditslear said it would generate $394,000 of additional revenue for the TIF district.
“I think that is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding that other private projects are in the works. “Riverview wouldn’t be asking the farmers market to leave if they weren’t going to do something.”
Ditslear said the project moves into the design phase now and it will break ground, demolish a building and install utilities and drainage in the spring.
Federal Hill, a 6.75-acre park between Ind. 19 and Logan and Conner streets, will be a year-round community amenity that mixes fun, art, history and green space and serves as an economic driver. Deputy Mayor Mike Hendricks said the project study began in 2007 as a way to “incorporate the west side to downtown.”
The project, originally titled West Gateway Park, officially began in August 2013 with the purchase of land and the city released its early design thoughts to the public a month later. During the summer, the city asked residents to submit names for the park and on July 31 the new name was announced, which was first submitted by longtime Noblesville resident Joyce Scott.
For the past month and a half, the Noblesville Common Council has discussed the project at length, including whether it should be called a park or gateway. As a compromise, the area is now referred to as Federal Hill and its original price of $10.4 million was dropped to $6 million.