New development is picking up in northern Johnson County.
Businesses invested about $20 million in the construction of new commercial buildings in Greenwood last year, or about four times more than the previous year and the highest amount since 2009, according to the city’s annual building permit report. They also spent $33.3 million on renovation projects, such as remodeling before moving into strip malls or offices, and that’s the most for Greenwood in at least five years.
Most of the growth last year took place in northern Johnson County, particularly Greenwood. Franklin issued no building permits for new commercial buildings last year, according to its planning department.
Johnson County issued eight permits for new commercial buildings last year, including a youth center at a Nineveh church, a maintenance facility at a Center Grove area church and a new office on Old State Road 37.
The county issued roughly the same number of permits in 2011 and previous years.
In Greenwood, sensor and gauge manufacturer Endress+Hauser started construction on a $10.5 million production facility that will expand its campus. Developers are investing more than $650,000 in a new storage facility on U.S. 31 South, about $400,000 on a new hangar at the airport and $5.3 million on an assisted living facility.
Other projects included a bank, a Mexican restaurant, a gas station and a Firestone auto care store on State Road 135.
The $1 million tire and auto care shop replaced a Rally’s Hamburgers restaurant, which was razed. The demolition of older buildings on State Road 135 is a good sign about the highway’s continued vitality as a commercial sector, senior planner William Peeples said.
“On State Road 135, you’re seeing old buildings being torn down to make way for new construction,” he said. “That’s good because the worst thing you can see is a succession of tenants and uses in the same tired old buildings, because that eventually leads to decline of a commercial area.”
Stores and other businesses have been filling vacancies in strip malls and offices in Greenwood’s commercial areas along State Road 135, around Greenwood Park Mall and along Emerson Avenue on the eastside, Peeples said.
“If you drive around the city, you’ll see the multitenant retail centers filling up,” he said. “Vacant spaces are getting commercial uses, and it will eventually cross some threshold where commercial development will take off again.”
Last year, businesses invested $33.3 million in remodeling projects that often involved getting vacant spaces ready for new tenants. That’s more than twice as much as normal, because about $15 million was the average amount of that type of construction over the previous four years.
Businesses did 93 remodeling projects across Greenwood and remodeled more than 817,000 square feet of commercial space.
New tenants moved into Greenwood Park Mall, and chain stores and restaurants upgraded their interiors and updated their looks in some cases, planning director Ed Ferguson said. But many of the projects were to fill in vacant spaces in strip malls or offices, such as the medical offices along County Line Road and Emerson Avenue, he said.
In recent years, businesses have been moving into available spaces instead of building new, Ferguson said.
The overall amount of new construction, though increasing, is still significantly slower than it was before the downturn.
For instance, developers did nearly $70 million worth of construction in 2009, when the OrthoIndy facility and the Indiana-Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters training facility were built.
But demand is picking back up as businesses become more confident and less uncertain about the direction of the economy, Johnson County Development Corp. chief executive officer Cheryl Morphew said.
“They’re getting confidence back and going forward with some of the plans they had been holding off on,” she said. “Financing is slowly coming back, and plans companies had prior to the downturn are starting to take off.”
Morphew said she has gone on four site tours so far this month with businesses interested in expanding or locating in Johnson County. She said that’s a positive sign because it’s usually quiet this time of year.
More development projects should take place this year, and they will benefit the entire community, Morphew said.
“There’s a direct impact of construction jobs and the indirect impact that those workers will be spending money in the community at stores and restaurants,” she said. “It all trickles down.”