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Town plans to develop near I-65

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Two gas stations and restaurants are the only development motorists see when they get off Interstate 65 at the Whiteland exit.

Whiteland town officials are planning for drastic changes in how those areas look in the future, with a multilevel town center that would serve as a new town hall and offer shops or restaurants on the bottom level, with apartments upstairs. The area near the I-65 exit could end up being surrounded by small factories, office space, shops and restaurants.

Whiteland is planning to more than double the size of its tax-increment financing, or TIF, district, which currently includes a majority of the center of town. Officials consider expanding the TIF district to be the first step in turning plans into actual development.

The revenue from a TIF district would be used for infrastructure improvements, with two projects at the top of the wish list: reconstructing Whiteland Road to four lanes and bringing water lines to the farmland by the interstate to make it ready for development, Whiteland Planning and Zoning Director Nathan Bilger said.

A TIF district collects property taxes on any increases to property values or new developments in that area. The town would then get that extra revenue, but the amount schools and libraries collect would remain the same.

The town would most likely have to borrow money for any infrastructure projects, and will only be able to pay off those loans once new businesses come to the area, which would bring in more revenue. If no new businesses move to the area, the town would have to pay for the infrastructure improvements, such as new roads or water lines, with existing revenue.

But that’s a worst-case scenario and the infrastructure improvements would be made with the hopes of drawing new businesses to the area. Whiteland officials would be open to just about any company that wants to relocate or open a facility, but the town may shy away from a few businesses that could deter other businesses wanting to select the area, such as a fertilizer plant. Other than those rare exceptions, the town will be ready to talk to any interested developer, Bilger said.

Whiteland will add about 730 acres of land near I-65 to its TIF district. The town wants to develop the area by the interstate exit and create a niche as other central Indiana locations have done, Bilger said. For example, technology and high-level professional businesses occupy the area near 71st Street and Interstate 465 on the westside of Indianapolis. An Interstate 69 exit in Noblesville is flooded with retail shops and restaurants.

Offices, small factories, warehouses and restaurants fill the area near other interstate exits in Franklin and Greenwood. But a lack of utilities, such as water and sewer lines readily available around the Whiteland interstate exit, has led to almost no development.

Not having those utilities ready to go doesn’t mean Whiteland can’t attract new businesses, but it hinders their chances. A potential business is probably going to pick a site south or north on I-65, in Franklin and Greenwood, where utilities are already available and hooked up, Johnson County Development Corp. president and chief executive officer Cheryl Morphew said.

The area on the north side of town that will be added to a TIF district can be differentiated into three distinct areas, Bilger said. An area north of Tracy Road and east of Emerson Avenue currently contain industrial-type businesses, such as a lumber manufacturer and a company that makes dumpsters. One of the businesses has talked about expanding in the future and a TIF district was expanded to this area for that reason, Bilger said.

An area that is north of Tracy Road and west of Emerson Avenue is a vacant field that runs along the railroad tracks and will be added to the TIF district. The hope would be to attract some sort of industrial development that would benefit by being next to the railroad, Bilger said.

The town is also adding an area south of Tracy Road and west of Front Street to the TIF district. The area is a mix of fields, businesses _ such as a grain elevator and trucking business _ and a few residences. Because of its location nestled off the main roads, the area is being targeted for industrial development.

The town is also adding about 141 acres located mostly southwest of Whiteland Road and U.S. 31, but that area also would include the site of a former grocery store. The area is being targeted for redevelopment, bringing in anything from restaurants to a grocery store to retail shops.

The town’s current TIF district includes most of the center of town, where the administrative offices are located. The proposed TIF district will include about 730 acres near I-65, about 200 acres on the north side of town along U.S. 31, and another 141 acres that is located southwest of the intersection of U.S. 31 and Whiteland Road.

Still, most of the infrastructure improvements — such as any improvements to Whiteland Road or expanding water service — are years away. If the TIF district expansion is approved, the town may wait a few years before starting any infrastructure projects unless a business shows immediate interest, Bilger said.

Building a town center could be a decade away. The idea is based off what has been built in Fishers, which will transition from a town to a city and just voted for mayor in the Republican primary election on Tuesday. The timing of building a new town center in Whiteland could be dependent on when there is a need for new administrative offices, or if a developer liked the idea enough to invest in the construction, Bilger said.

As of now, a future town center would be built just east of the current location for town offices, which are at 549 Main St.

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