Officials: Park needs safety measures

Seymour City Council approves TIF funding for downtown greenspace

Seymour Common Council has given its approval for the redevelopment commission to use tax increment financing revenue to fund the construction of a $3.5 million downtown park.

But council President Jim Rebber said he wants to see some safety measures put into the design of the park to keep people better protected from increased train traffic traveling at a higher rate of speed in the area.

The 3-acre property is located in the 100 block of East Tipton Street and is bordered on the west by the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line, on the north by the CSX Transportation line and on the east by a rail line that connects the two.

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said original plans called for fencing around the project, but the railroad companies did not agree with having fencing that close to their tracks.

“Part of what you will see is a berm that goes up with some sort of shrubbery or plantings to protect those tracks,” Luedeman said.

The lot, owned by Dick Elmore of Seymour, has been empty for many years. It is used for parking during the Seymour Oktoberfest and most recently was a staging area for railroad improvement work.

GM Development of Indianapolis has purchased the property and will be developing the park for the city. The $3.5 million includes both the cost of the property and construction and can only be paid back using TIF revenue, not residential property taxes, said Rich Starkey, with Barnes & Thornburg, the city’s bond counsel.

The park is being billed as a green space and community gathering place for outdoor concerts, festivals and events and will include a large outdoor stage, pavilion and lawn and public parking.

On Monday, the council voted 5-1 in favor of the park with Shawn Malone casting the only dissenting vote. Malone said he had been told by constituents to vote against the project. Councilman Brian D’Arco was absent from the meeting.

Councilman Matt Nicholson said he also had received a lot of negative feedback about the park but made his decision to support the project after talking to a previously elected city official, who told him “cities don’t stand still. You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward. There’s no hitting the brakes and staying in one place.”

He also said he would like to see the city finish some projects, including the Schurman and Grubb Memorial Skate Park and the trails system.

Nicholson said he wasn’t as concerned about safety of children in the area of the new park because there will be no playground equipment there to attract them.

“I don’t see a lot of kids going in there without a special event going on, and chances are that special event is attracting mom and dad, too,” he said.

Councilman Lloyd Hudson said he can’t recall an accident or anyone getting hurt in the area because of the trains, and he has heard there are investors interested in bringing new businesses downtown if the park is built.

“It’s never been an issue in my mind,” he said of safety.

Rebber said he has wanted the city to do something with the property for a long time.

“Someone told me the park should be built somewhere else,” he said. “I’m not that direction. I’d like to see this thing go. My concern is about the safety.”

Resident Joe Kelly said he thought the location of the park was bad.

“If there’s no fence or anything to keep your kid from going in between the shrubbery and onto the tracks, that’s not good for the trains, the city or the families,” he said.

Tom Goecker, president of the Seymour Main Street board of directors, said the park fits into the organization’s long-range plans and vision to revitalize the downtown.

He said there are other communities that have parks next to railroad tracks, including Mill Race Park in Columbus.

“I think once people start seeing that the trains are coming through faster, hopefully, they will pay attention,” Goecker said. “There’s always liability. That’s life.”

Councilman Dave Earley said the location may not be perfect.

“But it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “We can take as many precautions as we want and even put a fence up, but it’s still not going to be perfect for everybody.”

Tonja Couch, executive director of Jackson County United Way, said after completing conversations with more than 300 residents, it was clear people want a community that is healthy and vibrant with places to go and things to do.

“We need that for all people, all ages and all incomes, in our community,” she said.

Couch said the downtown and the park can be “an anchor” for Seymour, can bring people into the city and demonstrates the city is willing to invest in itself.

Tricia Bechman, president of the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce, said the city might not see a return on its investment in dollars, but it will in investment.

“This park, this investment in our community, can make someone want to visit here, move here, relocate or start a business here,” she said. “This park is on display for all people to see what a forward-thinking and progressive community Seymour is.

“I think you have a phenomenal opportunity to really take us into the next decade and beyond, and I don’t know when that opportunity will come back,” she said.

Roger Smith, who owns three office buildings in the downtown, likes the location and said he thinks the park will be a great way to improve the visual appeal of the city.

“It’s a very unsightly area of our town. What we’ve got there now is just an eyesore,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a beautiful addition. It’s going to attract people to the downtown area, and for us who are trying to do retail downtown and help save the downtown from becoming a bunch of flea markets, we need something like this.

“I know there is risk with anything,” he added. “There’s an old saying that if safety is going to be our concern, then the captain of the ship would never leave shore. I think we ought to launch out and do this and really enhance our city.”

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