Mayor proposes path to downtown gateway park

It has been nearly seven years since Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman first proposed his vision for a downtown gateway park.

He never gave up on the project, even after the city was unable to reach a deal to purchase the vacant lot for the park and had to return $2 million in grant funding to the state for not meeting the deadline to begin construction.

Now, Luedeman is confident he has found a way for the park to be built in 2017.

Instead of the city buying the 3.24-acre site from owner Dick Elmore and developing it, a private investor has taken over that role.

The city is working with GM Development in Indianapolis and The Wheatley Group of Sellersburg on an aggressive timeline that, if ultimately approved by the Seymour Redevelopment Commission, would see construction of the park begin in April and be completed in November.

“It’s been one of my pet peeve projects for a long time, and I’m just trying to get the ball rolling,” Luedeman said. “And this seems to be yet another avenue, since we haven’t been able to get the property purchased directly from Mr. Elmore, to get that done.”

The park would be financed and owned by GM Development and then sold to the city, which would use tax increment financing money to purchase it. The redevelopment commission oversees TIF district revenue and decides which projects to fund with it.

On Tuesday, the commission approved a contract with GM Development not to exceed $7,300, allowing the company to move forward with preparing a project budget.

By going this route, Luedeman said it will determine if the park is even feasible. The agreement doesn’t commit the city to actually building the park.

Paul Wheatley, president of The Wheatley Group, said the property, a former rail yard bordered by the CSX and Louisville and Indiana rail lines, already is under contract and currently is in the due diligence period.

After putting together the project budget, including acquisition and construction costs, Wheatley said GM Development will return with different options to the redevelopment commission in January.

Those options will show what the city can get for how much money the commission is willing to invest. The park could cost anywhere from $1 million to $3.5 million or more depending on which option the city ends up choosing. But that amount would be paid pack over a period of years, Luedeman said.

Commissioner Jeff Richey said having served on the city’s parks and recreation board for 12 years, he’s glad to see more parks space being considered.

“This is an important thing to them,” he said of the parks board. “We were always trying to find areas where we could add park space, so this would be something that finally would take care of a goal they’ve had for the last 15 to 20 years.”

Commission President Mike Jordan agreed, saying Seymour needs more than baseball diamonds and soccer fields.

Proposed features of the downtown park include a pavilion and event lawn, pedestrian pathways, landscaping and plantings, signage to include a large stone arch welcome sign and brick paving. There would be areas for public parking, too.

“I’d really like to see a true park, like Shields Park used to be,” Jordan said. “I think it’s very important that we have it on the gateway coming into town.”

Luedeman has said because of its proximity to Shields Park, the park will function not as a playground but as a green space and outdoor community gathering place.

He envisions moving the downtown Seymour Christmas event to the new park along with the city’s farmers market and downtown concerts.

Commissioner Kevin Gabbard said the project is a “permissible” use of TIF funds because one of the commission’s goals is to invest 20 percent of TIF revenue on downtown revitalization.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.