Steps to attract businesses

FORTVILLE–The small town of Fortville in Hancock County is taking big steps to attract more business activity as residential development from nearby Fishers creeps closer to its borders.

With roughly 4,000 residents, Fortville sits six miles east of Marion County’s northeast corner—past McCordsville on U.S. 36 and within minutes of Hamilton County.

The town for years has remained a blip on the map. But officials, like their brethren in neighboring McCordsville, suspect that’s about to change due to Fishers’ swelling population.

To help grease the wheels, Fortville is undertaking $6 million in infrastructure improvements and expanding its lone tax-increment financing district while creating another.

Municipalities establish TIFs to capture taxes from properties in areas identified for redevelopment. Property taxes from new development in a district go in a fund that is invested back into the district.

The Fortville Town Council last month agreed to expand the TIF district on the east side to encompass a one-mile stretch through the center of town along U.S. 36—known as Broadway Street within its borders.

“It’s ugly,” admitted Burns Gutzwiller, president of the town’s redevelopment commission. “Twenty-five thousand cars pass through every day on Broadway, but far less than 1,000 stay to do any business.”

One of the few draws along the thoroughfare is Sunrise Bakery, unless motorists stop for gas at the Huck’s or Speedway convenience stores.

Two blocks north of Broadway, however, on Main Street, the year-old FoxGardin Kitchen & Ale gastropub is attracting a lot of visitors, especially from the nearby Geist area, Gutzwiller said. Fortville officials hope to capitalize on the restaurant’s success by expanding the TIF to target a mix of restaurants and boutique shops.

Several properties along Broadway are for sale, which could make the area ripe for redevelop, Gutzwiller said. A lack of sidewalks along the stretch likely has contributed to the vacancies.

But the $6 million in mostly state and federal money earmarked for infrastructure improvements will fund new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting and crosswalks in the area surrounding Main Street. A trail system that will connect to Mount Vernon High School to the south also is in the works.

The new TIF district was approved by the council June 20 and extends south along Fortville Pike and County Road 200 West. Officials hope the district will lure more industrial and office users to the area. It’s the first new TIF the town has created since 2003. The original TIF houses seven businesses in an industrial park.

Fortville has been a one-stoplight town for several years. But that’s about to change, due to increasing traffic as Fishers housing developments inch closer.

Two of the largest are Ryland Homes’ 530-lot Vermillion community and the 350-home Steeplechase from Ryland and M/I Homes, both to the west of Fortville.

The existing stoplight at Maple and Broadway streets will be joined by another next year at 96th and Broadway streets and yet another slated to be installed in 2018 at North Madison (State Road 13) and Broadway streets.

The increased activity has Fortville Town Manager Joe Renner excited about the future.

“We hope for Fortville to be a destination someday,” he said, “not just a blip on the road.”

By Scott Olson – IBJ