Carmel mayor defends $101M in new bonds for roundabouts, carousel, hotel
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard gave a vigorous defense for nearly an hour at the July 17 Carmel City Council meeting as $101 million in new debt was proposed for roundabouts, multi-use paths, an antique carousel, hotel incentives and a new clubhouse at Brookshire Golf Course.
The council introduced two bond packages at the meeting and sent the proposals to committee for further discussion.
One bond proposal for $76 million would fund the projects and another $25 million proposal would pay for land acquisition for the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, such as for the hotel and redeveloping the northeast corner of Main Street and Range Line Road that is now home to PNC bank. Both bond proposals would be backed by the possibility of a special benefits tax, which means if the city is unable to repay the debt a new tax would be implemented.
Brainard used charts and graphs to show how he feels Carmel’s debt situation is manageable, with no risk of future taxes.
“I don’t see this as spending,” he said. “I view this as investing in our future.”
Brainard said he’s been looking for years at the idea of bringing a carousel to Carmel. He said Carmel doesn’t have many interesting historic buildings, so purchasing a 1907 hand-carved Dentzel carousel would be an added amenity.
“Why do we need a carousel in Carmel? Well, we don’t. Just like we don’t need bike paths,” he said, also listing amenities such as the Monon Community Center and public parks as an example of how government can create a family friendly atmosphere for residents.
The carousel itself could cost up to $3 million, but that doesn’t include land acquisition and constructing a building around it, which puts the total cost at closer to $5 million.
At least $10 million would to go toward luring an Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott to Carmel City Center. Construction costs could be $38 million. The CRC would help pay construction costs and back up the mortgage loan payments. Pedcor would likely be the ground tenant and joint owner, along with the CRC. In essence, Carmel would own part of the hotel.
Brainard compared this to the Conrad Indianapolis, a luxury hotel that is partially municipally owned. Indianapolis has reaped $1.2 million in returns, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, but invested $25 million into construction. Indianapolis has not received any returns from the JW Marriott, another hotel it has a stake in.
Brainard said he wants a four- to five-star hotel at City Center, and without public money he said a cheap hotel would be built instead. He cited Days Inn as an example.
“We don’t want it to be bottom of the pack, ever,” he said.
MONON GREENWAY EXPANSION
The spending proposal also includes $6 million for extending the proposed expansion of the Monon Greenway. There is already $23 million approved to widen the path in the city’s Midtown area between Main Street and City Center Drive and includes sidewalks, bike paths, one-way roads, public meeting spaces, lighting and more. Brainard said the idea could be taken further south past the tunnel at City Center Drive to the tree canopy near city hall. This would enhance the Monon outside of The Palladium and the soon-to-be constructed ice skating rink.
There’s also $6.2 million for the city-owned Brookshire Golf Course, which includes about $1.5 million in course improvements to speed up the rate of play. The rest of the funds are for a new clubhouse. Brainard said replacing the clubhouse would be less expensive than renovating it.
“It’s going to get expensive to maintain,” he said.
He said investing in Brookshire will help stabilize the area, which is one of the city’s older neighborhoods.
The bonds would pay for roundabouts at 106th Street and Hazel Dell Parkway, 3rd Avenue and Carmel Drive, 3rd Avenue and City Center Drive, Medical Drive and Carmel Drive, East 4th Street and Main Street and 6th Street and Range Line Road. Brainard went through each roundabout and explained why they are necessary for safety and moving traffic efficiently.
“Left turns are dangerous, so we see that as a safety issue,” he said.
Brainard also reiterated his interest in looking at a roundabout at Main Street and Range Line Road. He previously said that intersection would likely never become a roundabout because it’s too small and could mean tearing down buildings, but he said he’s reconsidering the idea. At the July 17 meeting, he noted how traffic backs up at the intersection.
HOW DOES CARMEL PAY FOR THIS?
Brainard detailed the city’s property tax revenue and debt. He said amenities such as the carousel will continue to bring in businesses, which help pay property taxes that fund these projects. He said he had one resident say that $101 million would help the city’s general fund, but Brainard noted that tax increment financing — which will be used in part to pay for the bonds and is a way to capture increases in property taxes — can only be used for infrastructure.
“I had to write that person back and say this money would not flow to the general fund,” Brainard said. “The money has to be used for public infrastructure that serves new development,”
Brainard said the debt is more like $880 million instead of the $1 billion that some have suggested, and he’s not worried about a special benefits tax.
“People say, ‘It’s a lot of money,’ and it is, but our revenues are really good, and there’s no reason to think it will decline in the future,” he said.