Letter: Merchant’s Square, 20 years later



As official non-mayors of Carmel, you and I enjoy celebrating civic milestones. And this year marks the 20th anniversary of the city’s very first tax increment financing project – Merchants’ Square at 116th Street and Keystone Parkway.

The TIF bonds were deployed in the fervent hope the projects they build will produce more tax revenues which, in turn, will both pay off the loans and increase monies for other projects. Some call it legalized Ponzi.

In 1998, city financiers used part of a $22 million TIF bond issue to redevelop Merchants’ Square when its anchor store, Target, fled north of 146th Street, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal.

The original developer sold the property in 2010 at less than half its face value.  The mayor of Carmel said, at that time, that Merchants’ Square “has been successful in the past and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be successful in the future.”

How’s that working out?

I recently counted 20 vacant stores and offices in Merchants’ Square, 20 fewer merchants. A cursory examination of Carmel Redevelopment Commission filings indicates the Square occupants paid the city $386,000. One wonders how much of that went to pay down debt.

As northbound Keystone is the Oregon Trail for retailers crossing to the frontier north of 146th Street, the city is working to declare 126th and Gray Road a redevelopment zone after a grocer and a branch bank went away.

Meanwhile, commercial real estate developers voted this area the fourth-worst in the nation for retail investment.

And, the prestigious commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield reports that of 15 trade areas in the Indianapolis retail market, only Carmel has additional retail space under construction. And, Carmel’s asking prices for retail space are second only to downtown Indianapolis — $22.13 in Carmel, $1.13 higher downtown.

Happy 20th Anniversary, social engineers. Condolences, taxpayers.

Have facts to dispute the above? Write bill@gatea.com

Bill Shaffer, Carmel