Brainard wants to transform office building parking lots along U.S. 31 into ‘little villages’

Chris Sikich discusses plans to insert mixed uses, including, residential and retail development similar to Carmel’s downtown, into the state’s second largest commercial hub along US 31.

When Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard looks at the 5-mile stretch of highway, he doesn’t just see multistory corporate headquarters and health care complexes that have been so instrumental in building the city’s financial base. He says there are hundreds of acres of underused land, not just the few tracts of green space on the market, but also the seas of parking lots that serve the buildings.

“It’s such a waste of space, these big suburban parking lots, which don’t look very nice,” Brainard said. “I anticipate some day there will be little villages around those office towers.”

The mayor is proposing to provide millions in taxpayer incentives for property owners and developers to build restaurants, shops, apartments and condos with parking garages along U.S. 31

As Carmel has developed its urban core, several high-profile corporations have fled the U.S. 31 corridor for the more walkable environment being created in the city’s downtown area.

“The market is changing,” Brainard said. “People don’t want to get in their cars to drive to lunch anymore. They want to walk someplace close to their office.” 

He thinks the highest quality development comes from public-private partnerships. He wants to guide development as he has in Carmel’s urban core. He hopes to offer incentives to encourage the development of shops, restaurants, homes and public spaces. That most likely means using TIF districts to pay back city bonds for parking garages, which in the past have cost from $10 million to $20 million each.