Preserving The Past For The Future

Illustrations Courtesy Of RATIO

Illustrations Courtesy Of RATIO

The City of Noblesville, Ind., recently committed to implementing an extensive plan for public-space development immediately west of the historic downtown, a $17-million investment. The master plan includes a new park, a sweeping pedestrian bridge across the White River, and pedestrian and traffic-calming enhancements to an adjacent state highway. This is the fulfillment of a vision established through collaboration between the mayor’s office and the city’s departments of parks and recreation, planning, engineering, and economic development. The master-planning process was facilitated by RATIO, a multi-disciplinary design firm based in Indianapolis, with offices in Chicago, Raleigh, and Champaign.

Noblesville is the county seat of Hamilton County, the fifth most populous county in Indiana. The county enjoys the number-one spot in per capita income, as well as the lowest unemployment and highest education levels. Noblesville’s population has increased by 82 percent in the last 10 years. 

The site for the new park is a 6.4-acre parcel bordered by busy thoroughfares that bring vehicular traffic into and out of Noblesville’s historic, pedestrian-scaled downtown. The site has over time been under agricultural production, home to two residences, a golf driving range, and an auto-repair shop. As a gateway into downtown, however, the potential for the property far exceeded the land uses it hosted. Adjacent property-uses include large surface parking lots that serve a grocery store and a nearby hospital. The city envisions a gradual transition of denser development surrounding the park, which, in turn, creates a gateway into downtown, effectively causing the White River to be a downtown feature, as opposed to merely being on the west edge. As the density around the park increases, the city will also realize an increase in tax revenue—probably amounting to many millions of dollars over time.

A Place Of Many Uses

The park will be anchored by a new performance venue with a capacity of 4,000 people. The plan also includes space for the community’s farmer’s market, a festival plaza, a restroom, and concessions pavilion, parking, walkways, and an accessible connection to the banks of the White River. Once developed, the site will not only be a destination itself, but will serve as a catalyst for economic development for the area immediately west of downtown. The park will be funded by an existing TIF district. 

Key to the successful development of the master plan was the involvement of many of the key decision makers in Mayor John Ditslear’s administration. Currently serving his third term, he has developed collaboration as a hallmark of his management style. “Parks and public spaces can’t be planned and developed in a vacuum,” says Ditslear. “To create the kind of destination we want for our community, we knew we would need to make a significant investment. You can’t make that kind of investment without all the leaders within your administration on the same page, and to a person, everyone ‘got’ what we were trying to do here.” 

“We really see parks as a significant part of our ability to attract investment in our community” says Judi Johnson, Noblesville’s Director of Economic Development. “There is a strong tradition of placing a higher than average value on parks and public space in Noblesville, and that tradition is reflected in our growth, the value of our housing, and our retention of existing businesses. We see ourselves as the caretakers of that tradition, and we take that very seriously.” 

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