Broad Ripple retail project could lead to Tarkington Park makeover

The Whole Foods project is drawing plenty of debate in Broad Ripple.

A controversial retail/residential project proposed for Broad Ripple could pave the way for a multi-million dollar makeover of a north side park.

Tuesday afternoon, members of the mayor's staff and three City-County councilors shared plans to help finance the Whole Foods/apartment project along with $5 million in improvements for Tarkington Park at 39th and Meridian streets.

Those improvements call for making Tarkington Park a "destination park."

The first phase addresses the southwest quadrant. It includes an interactive playground, two half-court basketball courts, a spray park, canopied stage and concession building.

Democratic councilor John Barth called it "a win-win solution" to a debate that's been waged since last spring.

That's when Browning Investment proposed building a Whole Foods, a 119-unit apartment complex and parking garage at the northeast corner of College and the Central canal (where a vacant Shell gas station sits.)

Browning indicated it would need city incentives to help cover infrastructure improvements along with the four-story parking garage.

Developers hoped to use some of the revenue from the new north side Tax Increment Financing - or TIF district. A TIF district is where tax dollars generated by a new development are reinvested in that district.

The plan met opposition from several business owners in Broad Ripple along with Barth, who wanted the initial TIF dollars to help other parts of the TIF district that he felt desperately needed an infusion of new money.

Tuesday, Barth said he was "okay with the investment in Broad Ripple as long as it was concurrent and on par with the investment in the southern part of the district."

Barth and members of the mayor's met for several months to work out a solution.

It calls for providing Browning Investments with $5.7 million in TIF and ensuring Tarkington Park gets city financing as well.

The $5 million target for Tarkington Park includes $3 million in Rebuild Indy funds, $1 million from the Indianapolis Parks Foundation and the remaining $1 million from the north side TIF district.

Barth said it's a good compromise.

"You can't have one without the other. The whole goal was a rising tide lifts all boats and I think this demonstrates that," he said.

Republican Councilor Will Goodin thinks the arrangement makes the Whole Foods development an easier sell.

"I know members of my caucus support it in general," he said.

Asked about providing TIF or tax dollars to Whole Foods, he said, "Whole Foods is not getting a dime. Whole Foods is going to pay market rate to rent the space from developers."

While Barth suspects the deal won't receive the support of all Democrats, he's hopeful it will pass.

Asked about the plan, vice president of development Jamie Browning said in a statement, "This is a win-win, with the excess dollars from the TIF request available for future projects in the area, which includes Tarkington Park and runs as far south as 30th Street and Central."

Rudy Nehrling, who owns the Good Earth in Broad Ripple and is a leading opponent of the Whole Foods development said "it's out of line and a misuse of TIF money."

The allocation of TIF money for the two projects is expected to go before the full council by the end of March. The move also needs approval of the Metropolitan Development Council. If that happens, construction on the Whole Foods project could begin immediately. Construction on the park improvements could in the fall and take a year.