Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ameriplex - (Part 4 - More than a Parking Facility)

Someone with far better business acumen than I should do a case study of Ameriplex.  The folks who run it have come up with some fantastic business models, only some of which have come to fruition.   Here is the view from where I sit.

I already mentioned ("The 800 Pound Gorilla - Indianapolis Airport") how the prime Interstate-70 frontage was taken from the Industrial Park before it even had legs under it, through the forced land swap with the Airport to ensure a 3rd runway for the exclusive use of FedEx.  The Airport would swap prime interstate frontage for land it purchased through its noise abatement program - some land already purchased and some waiting for the property owner to decide it was the right time for him or her to sell to the program.

The first interesting, to my eye, aspect of Ameriplex was its zoning.  How do you zone for a 1200 acre industrial park when you do not know exactly where the Feds will locate a key I-70 interchange that will lead the bulk of traffic to your site, nor the exact parcels that will ultimately be purchased and when they will become available.  For my fellow zoning geeks out there, the choice was a CS, where the first land use map was secured along with a process to move the lines between land uses through an administrative approval.  Land that Ameriplex actually owned was zoned and the expected full built out footprint was assigned conceptual land uses to guide future zonings as those parcels were actually acquired.  Flexibility had to be a component.  Not just the routine flexibility for future uses sought by many petitioners on smaller tracts of land, but the flexibility to move land uses once it was know exactly where key infrastructure would be located.

Ameriplex's first, and lasting, signature attribute was its environmental compatibility model.  The idea was to use native plantings that would require little use of fertilizers and lower ongoing maintenance.  The benefits would be a nice looking property along with lower costs for the land owners within the Park.  This was a bit of a bumpy road for the first few years as perennial wildflower plantings do take some time to overtake other 'native' plants that are considered mere weeds.  Ultimately a mix of native plantings and traditional mowed lawn yards prevailed.  Walking trails, a winding creek that runs through the north end of the Park, and deliberate preservation of existing woods, all help set Ameriplex slightly apart.  For their efforts on this front Ameriplex was awarded the first certification as a Wildlife-Friendly Development from the Indiana Wildlife Federation for "promoting the preservation, enhancement and restoration of wildlife habitat throughout the planning and construction process".

 The most exciting business model postulated by the Ameriplex folks (Chris Wilkes runs the Park and its development here in Indy, but his partners in the overall effort are Doug Hunt and John Phair who oversee their Industrial Parks elsewhere) was 70 West.  It was designed for the area closest to the I-70 / Amerplex Parkway interchange and utilized the I-70 frontage that Ameriplex was able to retain after the land swap with the Airport.  The idea was to locate big players in the 'destination retail' market.  These are retailers, whose customer base is not local rooftops measured in a mile or two radius, but those within a three hour travel time.  This would by the types of retail epitomized by Ikea, Bass Pro-Shop, and Cabela's.   The fit was excellent.  With the airport next door, that three hour travel time need not be by car.  For Decatur, it could attract the retail we need without us having to provide the rooftops.

The project needed State assistance, since the City was not going to help finance the project.  The destination retailers are used to regions vying for their business with incentives.  Ameriplex hoped to get the State to agree to an additional increment of sales tax just within the project to pay for the incentives.  It was not to be.  Decaturites tried to help, but we were not effective enough.  I remember being on the phone with Gordon Hendry, Mayor Peterson's economic development guy, as I headed to the hearing in the Statehouse.  Hendry was pulling the plug and Peterson's support for the project was not going to be expressed before the committee.  That is when Representative Phil Hinkle stepped in to aide our community - for which I am eternally grateful.  He threatened to kill legislation Peterson wanted on abandoned houses.  Peterson let the abandoned housing bill get killed rather than help us.  Just like this year with mass transit, if the local politicians don't pull the wagon, why should Legislators from the rest of the State vote for something exciting in Indy.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, Purdue Foundation and Ameriplex got together to install a business incubator for cutting edge companies - the Purdue Research Park in Ameriplex.  The idea here was to locate the incubator facility in an area where the successfully incubated companies could spin out to nearby parcels, maintaining their relationships with the incubator staff.  This research lab concept to fully developed product Technology Park is very exciting for all of Indianapolis, but certainly fantastic as a vehicle to provide high tech jobs for Decatur residents.

Next time I'll talk about the proposed Fast Park & Relax facility that was the subject of the recent zoning and the focus of so much drama.  Hopefully the pieces are coming together as to how this project fits with the environmental stewardship efforts of Ameriplex, fills some of the needs for Decatur's taxbase outside of the TIF district and more.

[ Yesterday's Zoning Case - It About Far More Than a ParkingFacility, The 800 Pound Gorilla,


Anonymous said...

"destination retail"???

Thank goodness you didn't throw government incentives at a retailer like Cabelas or Bass Pro. These guys promised to turn rural communities into a Disneyland for outdoorsmen, but it all was a farse .

Just ask the folks in Hammond or the other central Indiana community that actually "won" the Cabelas store. Empty land, millions in land gifts and tax giveaways for nothing.

Retail is on the bottom of the economic impact food chain. It follows growth, it doesn't create it.

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon - I'll disagree with you. It was modeled after Village West in Kansas City, which is a success.

Anonymous said...

Cabela's business model is a joke.

I've read the Great American Jobs Scam and I'll have to read Free Lunch.