City of Carmel’s possible carousel purchase prompts competing petitions
Two petitions are circulating online regarding the City of Carmel’s plan to spend $101 million on new roundabouts, an antique carousel, incentives to attract a luxury hotel and more.
The city is considering purchasing a 1907 hand-carved Dentzel carousel, which would cost approximately $5 million, including the purchase of land and constructing a building around it. In addition, about $10 million to $15 million would to go toward luring an Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott to Carmel City Center. Construction costs could be $38 million and the Carmel Redevelopment Commission would help pay those costs and back up the mortgage loan payments.
The first petition, entitled “Stop Carmel taxpayer funding of a carousel and luxury hotel,” has more than 730 supporters as of Aug. 4. It was created by Dr. Tim Hannon, a Carmel resident who focused mostly on the carousel and hotel aspect of the proposed debt package. He said he came up with the idea to start a petition after attending a recent city council meeting where Mayor Jim Brainard spoke at length to defend the carousel and the hotel.
“One city councilor told me that only two people showed up to express concerns about these projects, but I don’t want the city to think that’s all there is,” he said. “I started this petition to give people a voice and let the city know that there are people who want other options to be explored besides just using taxpayer money.”
Hannon said it’s wrong to dismiss local hotels such as The Renaissance as not prestigious enough and to “provide $15 million for the hotel because the private sector can’t justify the economics.”
“A luxury hotel would not serve business interests, as most businesses and all government contracts have caps on allowable hotel rates, nor would it provide an affordable option for leisure travelers wanting to stay downtown,” Hannon stated.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he’s not bothered by this petition.
“One petition started three or four days earlier,” Brainard said. “Each is getting about a hundred supporters a day.”
An expert will speak at the Carmel City Council meeting Aug. 7 about both the carousel and the luxury hotel, and Brainard encourages residents to attend or watch online to learn more. Brainard said the council likely won’t vote on the bonds until Aug. 21 or later.
Henry Mestetsky, an attorney with Bingham Grenebaum Doll LLP and member of the CRC, started a petition in response entitled, “Petition in Support of Carmel Carousel and Luxury Hotel.” There were 177 supporters as of Aug. 4.
“Most Carmel residents agree that Mayor Brainard’s vision has turned Carmel into a world-class city,” he told Current. “They show their support with their vote, but not necessarily at every town hall or online comment section. I created the petition to explain why I support the carousel and luxury hotel proposals and to give a voice to my neighbors who agree with me, even if they probably have better things to do than sign petitions.”
Mestetsky notes that Indianapolis spent millions to build the Conrad Hotel and the JW Marriott. He also said the carousel, similar to the ice skating rink, is part of Brainard’s placemaking efforts. Mestetsky said that Carmel has very little direct property tax debt and only about 4 percent of the city’s total debt is paid by property taxes.
“All cities invest in amenities, to varying degrees of success, but Mayor Brainard has a track record of making the right bets,” Mestetsky writes.
Brainard said it’s likely there would be a small charge to ride the carousel and that the building could sit on as little as an acre of land. He said he is strongly considering a nonprofit to either manage or financially support the carousel.
As for the hotel, Brainard showed some preliminary sketches that include a night club called the Feinstein Club, where Michael Feinstein, artistic director for The Center for the Performing Arts, would be a regular performer. He said the city would be an owner of the hotel, but not the sole owner.
“What people don’t understand is that Marriott rarely builds hotels,” he said. “Usually it is a developer who builds the hotel and then the Marriott will manage the hotel. We get their reservations system, their name and their experience.”
Marriott would pay a percentage of its revenue to the owner of the hotel, which would be the City of Carmel and Pedcor. That money would be used to pay off the mortgage, but Brainard said it’s possible there could be a profit on top of that in the first few years. He said Carmel could sell the building once complete or buy out Pedcor’s share.
View the petitions at change.org.
Against the carousel:
In support of the carousel: