Friday, September 26, 2008

Monarch Beverage Comes to Lawrence

I just attended the groundbreaking ceremony for Monarch Beverage Company and am . . . like everyone else here in Lawrence . . . thrilled. This company has made a commitment to bring in 600 high paying, full benefit jobs to an area that is already redeveloping in conjunction with INDOT's work to develop Pendleton Pike into a beautiful 9 lane road. Monarch is building their 547,000 square foot facility on the 93 acres at where the old drive-in theater sat. [For the history of this theater, see Mayor Paul Ricketts who can give a wonderful history lesson on all things Lawrence.]

The FHRA is very excited about Monarch's investment in our community because it means more opportunity for the success of Lawrence Village at the Fort. Over 600 employees are going to need some place to eat, shop, and visit and this location is within a stone's throw from the Fort. (Of course, you'd have to have a pretty strong arm to do it, but trust me, it's close . . . at least within an easy 2-5 minute drive depending on the train schedule.) Lawrence is a great place to live because of our excellent schools and affordable housing so I can definitely see a growing need for more residential opportunities here at the Village as well.

Thanks to Monarch for selecting Lawrence and to Mayor Ricketts and his team for working diligently to bring them here!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Village Art Committee

We've have one meeting already with a team of extremely talented individuals who share in common the fact that they have strong ties here in the community surrounding Fort Benjamin Harrison. The goal of the committee is to determine the future artistic direction for the Village, whether it's in public art displays, community art festivals, or functional art (park benches, trash receptables, etc.) We've told the committee that the sky's the limit -- I mean, how can we even think about putting a ceiling to artistic endeavor?

Judy Byron, local artist and architectural illustrator will chair the committee, which will meet monthly. Others on the committee include: Ed Watson, Midwest Model Makers; Mark & Shelley Rice, The Studio; Leo Miller, Vision Ventures; Greg Beyerl, Sign Craft; Sandi Groth, Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce; Kevin Foster, Schneider Corporation; John Wolski, Ski Landscape; Randy Royer, Browning Day Mullins & Dierdorf; and Mayor Paul Ricketts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Very Long Process Indeed

In August I attended the Association of Defense Communities (ADC) annual conference in Monterey, California. Four weeks on the job, and you can imagine how over my head it felt to listen to the experts talk about successful projects, planned projects, lessons learned, and more acronyms than what should be legally allowed. (In fact, I’m recommending for next year they do a primer on acronyms before the conference starts.)

The one thing I heard all of these experts say is that redeveloping a military installation is a VERY LONG PROCESS. That made me feel a little better since the question I’m mostly asked is “Why isn’t anything happening out there at the Fort?”

There are 3 answers as I see it now that I've been on the job for ten weeks.

1. Community Leaders Change. Since the FHRA opened its doors in 1996, the Authority has had 6 directors, and the City of Lawrence has had 3 mayors. Not only that, the City Council has changed as has master planners and state government leaders. It’s no wonder that decisions once made became historical footnotes. The good thing is that each one of these directors, mayors, city councillors, and master planners laid the infrastructure for tremendous progress today.

2. The Economy Changes. The last market analysis was prepared in conjunction with the last master plan which was completed in 2006. Since that time, the residential market has significantly changed and gas prices are through the roof. While Indiana is somewhat insulated from the severity of the market down turn on the coasts, we might still wonder if anyone will take a chance on our project at this time. I am encouraged by the positive response of the many people with whom I've talked -- some of whom are very eager to become part of the Village development.

3. Things Take Longer Than Expected. Think about those home construction projects that take you to the hardware store so often that you truly get to know that “Ace is the place of the helpful hardware man.” Magnify those projects by 100 and you’ve got change orders, hidden surprises in Army dirt, questions that cause further research, and an overall reluctance to begin. The things is, the Lawrence Village at the Fort project is no different than the other military installation redevelopment projects across the country. Regardless of size and scope, these projects take time because of the nature of the work itself. All of the work that's been done to date has been necessary and certainly sets the stage for "dirt to be dug."

We’re taking baby steps toward progress. We've finally cleaned up the property by mowing the tall grass and taking care of the neglected areas. We've formed a Village Art Committee of local business owners and residents who have impressive experience in a wide variety of the arts. We've kicked off the Phase I Infrastructure project by beginning construction documents. Our goal is to have a contractor in place and ready for construction in March of 2009. The FHRA is working with the City of Lawrence to build a Lawrence Skate Park, which will be an awesome addition to the City.

I'll have more to report after this Friday's board meeting. It's my intention to keep the community informed of progress as it happens.