Browning Investments is proposing an 88 Unit Apartment Building, perched mostly on over 30,000 sq. ft. of retail, and a parking garage, on the former Shell Gas Station site just north of Westfield & College, and also encompassing the current apartments located along the canal and to the north.
The immediate issue up for consideration is whether to rezone the property. That issue comes before the MDC in early June, and primarily involves the specific Shell Station area, which is currently zoned residential, but is also the subject of an enforceable agreement with IDEM which prohibits it from being used for residential. If it doesn’t get rezoned, it will simply remain an underutilized (apparently Shell, who owns it doesn’t like the word “abandoned.”) forever. Despite all the noise surrounding the project, that’s the only issue currently at hand, and the only issue that the Broad Ripple Village Association is being asked to evaluate.
That said, most of the noise around the project seems to relate to the size (and look) of the buildings, the proposed retail tenant, and of course, how the project gets financed, which now that there’s a TIF District in place that includes the area of this development, becomes the 900 pound gorilla in the room and thus seems to be drawing the most conversation despite the fact that it’s not formally being decided by any entity that has the power to decide it right now. I’ll talk about that part in a little more detail further down, but right now, I’ll start with the other two issues.
The project, as noted, is pretty tall, starting with something about the height of the Fresh Market closest to College, and rising to about five stories further to the east. Over the past six years, Broad Ripple has been the subject of an extensive process which began as “Envision” Broad Ripple, and evolved into a neighborhood master plan. There were at least 60 different public meetings held to let the public weigh in on how the Village should evolve architecturally, over the coming decades, Since I attended most of those meetings (they usually involved free pizza from Union Jack’s, and UJ makes fabulous pizza) I know they were very well attended, and equally well publicized. If you weren’t there, you made a conscious effort not to be there.
The consensus opinion that came out of those meetings, was that, folks wanted more “density” along College Avenue. (Density is mostly urban planning lingo for height packed with people.) The reasons given for that conclusion were that College was likely to evolve into a transit corridor (assuming State government ever realizes that State legislators from rural areas aren’t the true governing body of Marion County), and, that Broad Ripple was going to be a lot more sustainable if more people lived there, as opposed to just driving there to tie one on weekend nights. Under those assumptions, the proposed project actually fits pretty well.
As for the proposed retail tenant, which is Whole Foods (perhaps the most leaked bit of information in Indiana history) the furor seems to relate to its impact on the Good Earth Natural Food Co., which is a couple of blocks away and, which has a storied history in the Village (not to mention being part of a somewhat larger story that deserves to be made into a major motion picture, but not until after Evan Bayh’s batteries run down). Still, most of that noise began with those who run Good Earth, and people who argue against what they see as competition don’t always make the best point men for arguments. Having been to Good Earth, and to other Whole Food stores, I tend to think there’s a place for both in the Village and that competition is aways good for the market, (Having just said that, I’m a bit worried about impact on Fresh Market, which is a Meridian Kessler business that’s done very well and would have made a lousy Walgreen’s, so my free market instincts are as easily swayed as the next guy’s. I’m also partial to the argument in favor of ‘local’ businesses, but I’m not sure either that we’ll ever see a ‘local’ grocery again, or that everything needs to fit that mold.). It’s worth noting that there seems to be an agreement that if the super-secret Whole Foods doesn’t make it there, no future tenant could be larger than a third of the proposed retail space. I like that part, because buildings always seem to out live their tenants, so it’s always important to concentrate on the building first. (I wish we’d gotten a concession like that on Fresh Market, since on days I forget to clean my glasses, I think it already looks a little like a Walgreens)
OK, on to the money. Browning is going to ask for money from the TIF, but it’s asking in a slightly different way. Without totally boring you with how a TIF works, newly created property taxes from new construction (also known as the ‘increment’) flow into the TIF. If nothing is built, nothing flows. The money that’s in the TIF is used to spur the creation of other bright and shiny things in the district, which in an ideal world, gets ever brighter and ever shinier. The noblest dreams of this particular TIF are that the least bright and shiny areas of the District receive the bulk of the increment.
Browning is asking, essentially, to take 80% of it’s increment, and use it to finance what it proposes to build. The theological underpinning of that, which is why I’m starting there, is that Browning says it wouldn’t build anything without that arrangement, so if you don’t believe that, everything that follows is rubbish, and, conversely, if you do believe that, you also understand that if nothing gets built, nothing new flows into the TIF and less gets done for the less bright and shiny areas of the District.
While the numbers are still sketchy, Browning noted that this is a $25 million project, which ought to mean that it will, also roughly, throw off $750K in property taxes annually, assuming cost and AV are close. If 80% goes back to the project, that’s around $600K annually, which, depending on interest rates, ought to support a bond of at least half the project costs. The remaining 20% that flows into the TIF should increase the Districts ability to bond for other projects somewhere in the range of one to two million.
A couple of closing thoughts. If you had the misfortune to attend the BRVA informational meeting on this project, you saw both the best of neighborhood associations, and the worst of public discourse. BRVA’s efforts to provide information are more than commendable, while the behavior of a good portion of those who attended the meeting makes you a little afraid to walk the streets of Broad Ripple during daylight hours, let alone after the bars close.
The Star’s reporting on the meeting was ridiculous. While their web version features a video interview with a competing developer, who has been floating a similar project with similar tax breaks for at least six years, all without ever mentioning that tidbit of information, their lead quote in the print version dealt with someone who lives about 3 blocks away, who’s supposedly worried that residents of the proposed apartments will be peering into his backyard. At least with the blog reporting, you begin with the assumption the writer is crazy, and of course, I am.