The below is the speech given by Mike Corbett at his Campaign Kick-Off Rally.
This is a crucial time for the City of Noblesville. Events over the past four years have revealed a disconnect between the people and our leaders and its time to correct that.
At the same time, development that has the potential to change the face of our city is knocking at the door. We’re lucky it’s happening now. We have examples of modern development happening just down the road.
We can see what neighboring downtowns look like and make a decision about our future as those same developers propose projects in our city.
That’s why this election is so important. This election will determine our future path: will we go the way of our neighboring communities, or will we stick to our values, and manage development that fits in with our existing environment. The future of Noblesville is at stake here, and that’s the reason it’s so important that you are here and that you want to get involved.
Think about the important decisions that have been made in the past three years, decision that have made a lasting impact on life in Noblesville. Starting with the trash fee, the very first ordinance enacted with this new council. Ordinance 01-01-16. That was where we got an early look at how this administration planned to run things. The ordinance was presented, the people were given the opportunity to comment. Almost all thought it was a pretty bad idea, the council voted and it became clear the decisions were already made. The votes were already decided before the people even heard the idea. It passed early. A few veteran councilors voted against it on principle: they didn’t appreciate how a tax increase was rammed through so quickly without significant discussion and despite the objection of the people. But they were in the minority and it passed. And so, some of our councilors, including one running for mayor this time around, have the distinction of having their very first vote as a public servant be for a tax increase.
That pattern has continued over the past three years: important decisions that affect our city, that affect us, that ought to be made in a public forum with public input, are made ahead of time in closed door meetings, we are invited to comment after the fact, our comments are ignored and the plan proceeds as if we weren’t even there. The Nickel Plate Trail, the Pleasant Street extension, what would have been the Seminary Park Condo development, if it hadn’t been for a certain whistleblower, and now the Levinson, all proceeded the same way and that has to change.
Some will say that’s what elected leaders are for… to do the hard work for us so we don’t have to delve into the details and to them I say yes, in most routine matters, I appreciate that our elected officials are putting in the time to understand and vote for our best interests in these matters. BUT, when it comes to a tax increase, or driving the train out of our city, or destroying dozens of homes, or taking out a historic building to build the largest private building ever erected downtown, we’d like to be involved…early so we can have some say over how the development goes. That’s not happening, and that needs to change, especially in light of the projects that will inevitably arise over the next few years.
There are five basic principles that will drive this campaign and my administration. And I’d like to explain them to you.
First, we are absolutely committed to bringing transparency, inclusiveness and responsiveness back to
That is the reason many got involved in this campaign. They were appalled at the way the public was treated at the Nickel Plate public meeting, where every speaker except one was against getting rid of the train, and it happened anyway. You see a broken system and you want to change it. That is a noble cause and one worth fighting for, especially considering what’s at stake. Nothing less than the future of our city. Let’s make sure that future happens in an environment where everybody gets a say, the plan is adjusted and the final plan represents a compromise of competing interests.
Second, a recognition that historic preservation isn’t something to be tolerated but something to be embraced and celebrated as a driver of economic development.
Here in Noblesville, our history is what we have to offer. It’s what marketers call our unique selling proposition. Let’s capitalize on it, celebrate it and build on it. Well, in order to do that you have to stop tearing down buildings. I know each project is a judgment call and some buildings are too far gone to save. I recognize that. But I also know for a fact that people come here because we have those buildings that other communities haven’t seen the value in saving. When we tear them down we destroy a little bit more of the very thing that makes us unique and we never get it back. We have to be very careful and deliberate about what we decide to demolish. We’ve made some bad decisions in the past. Let’s not keep making them in the future.
We are meeting in a building that stands as a prime example of what I mean. The renovation of the Model Mill fits perfectly into the fabric of Noblesville, yet its not hard to imagine our city leaders looking at it and targeting it for demolition. It’s only because we have visionaries like Rocky Shanesazh that we are able to keep these buildings, improve them and turn them into economic generators like Rocky has. The city needs to encourage more of that.
Third, a promise to maintain our small town values, emphasizing responsible development with a
preference for locally owned businesses and a thriving urban core.
I often hear people say we don’t want to be Carmel or Fishers. I try to figure out what they mean. What is it about those cities that they reject, because, after all, they are successful at what they are doing, yet it doesn’t seem right for Noblesville. What is it that’s not right.
I have a few theories. I think a large part of it relates to scale and design. The current trend is huge buildings, often a block long or more. No private buildings in our downtown are that large. They are built on single or double lots and I think we need to be very careful about taking on development that changes that scale because I think we risk losing that atmosphere if we go too big.
Some developers will tell you smaller buildings are a thing of the past, they’re not economically viable any more and banks won’t finance them. But I’ve also talked to bankers who’ve said that isn’t true. I think the answer is to figure out what we want and go out and find developers that can deliver it. Development in Noblesville has always been a matter of waiting to see what comes our way. You’ve heard the saying: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Let’s stand for small, incremental development. It’s low risk, high value and it fits our city better than mega buildings. At the same time we need to make sure our city is geared up to welcome new business, while encouraging existing businesses to stay and thrive. I have heard anecdotal evidence that its hard to do business in Noblesville. I will ensure that’s not the case.
Fourth: a focus on infrastructure, especially transportation.
The city has the responsibility to build and maintain our roads and other means of getting around. Transportation is changing. The younger generation doesn’t embrace cars the way past generations did. Technology is rapidly leading to electric cars, which are smaller and less obtrusive than current cars, and autonomous vehicles. It’s tempting to think autonomous cars are way out in the future, but consider how quickly the smartphone changed the way we communicate. The same thing could happen with transportation. We need to keep that in mind as we develop our roads and other means of getting around. Scooters are taking over downtown Indianapolis.
I’m a big fan of trails, not just as a recreational amenity, but as a transportation alternative. Which means they need to lead to places where people go regularly to live their lives, like restaurants, grocery stories, hospitals, schools. Our trails don’t go there and they need to. I have an idea for an alternative transportation infrastructure I’m calling the Noblesville Trailway. You’ll hear more about that as the campaign continues.
I will also mention the west side of the river downtown. Our road infrastructure there is totally out of scale with a city park. We’ve only done half the job. We built the park but we didn’t adjust the roads or build parking to accommodate the people that the park is intended to draw. We need to rethink the west side of downtown. The park is a good start but there’s a lot left to do.
The fifth principle is a respect for the Noblesville taxpayer, who is currently paying some of the
highest taxes in the county.
I realize infrastructure costs money and a growing community needs to invest in itself in order to grow. But I’m not convinced we’re getting the best bang for the buck. All current spending plans will be up for review and we will focus on smaller projects that deliver outsized results.
After fifteen years from one administration you can bet there are sacred cows and a bit of fat in that document. I will take a comprehensive look at the budget, prioritizing the truly important things like making sure our Firefighters can staff enough men for each truck, building a new Police Headquarters that will fit our growing department and making sure they have the modern equipment they need to keep us safe. My administrationWe will be disciplined stewards of the public dollar.
Those are the five principles that will drive this campaign and my administration. They are front and center on our website and are what we will discuss over the next seven months. As I wrap up I want to share just a bit of my vision for the city by letting you know what you can expect to see happen in my four year term:
- I will do everything I can to bring back the train. I will stand up for Noblesville’s values in the effort to keep the rails intact going south and advocate for rail AND trail. Railbanking has its place, but it’s a bad idea for us and I am grateful that there is a lengthy federal process to prevent local municipalities from simply doing what they want with the railroad right of way. I look forward to fighting for Noblesville’s best interests in that debate. I fear it may be too late to repair the relationship with the Indiana Transportation Museum but I will do what I can to return at least a portion of that cultural amenity back to our community.
- I will focus on embracing the river and extending our downtown to the west side. When people think of our downtown they think of the courthouse square. That defines downtown Noblesville. We need to take the design principles, the sense of scale and the walkability of the square and replicate it around Federal Hill Park. We need to finish the job, and keep those same principles in mind as Riverview develops the old Kahlo lot and the riverfront district starts growing. Now is the time, before we permit a bunch of inappropriate buildings to go up on the west side, to plan for that growth and extend the environment everyone enjoys around the square to west side.
- You will see a marked improvement in our trail system
- Its time to focus on Firestone. I like the idea of having a new police station built there. I think that has the potential to spark development in that neighborhood, but there is so much more potential. It’s a very mysterious place right now, fenced off behind barbed wire. But the building has been gone for nearly ten years. It’s a brownfield right in the middle of our city. Let’s figure out what’s possible there, what we need to do to clean it up and get things going on the property. It’s been sitting there for too long.
- We really don’t have that many parks in Noblesville and I think its important that the city stake its claim on the east side before more development comes in. Stony Creek is a beautiful natural amenity. We need to protect that and ensure we keep it open and accessible to the public.
- We will come up with the right solution for the downtown bypass. If Pleasant Street really is the best route, I will eventually admit that, but we owe it to the dozens of families who will lose their homes under the current plan, and the hundreds of others whose lives will be impacted, to know that we have exhausted the alternatives. So far the city hasn’t done that.
- What I hope you will notice after four years is a renewed interest by the citizenry in our civic affairs. People have become cynical about the system because they have been excluded for so long. I want to open up City Hall and make it work for the people again. That’s why many have joined this campaign and that is my promise to you. Backroom deals, personal vendettas, political intrigue need to become a thing of the past. I don’t have lot of patience for all that drama. It’s time to open the windows and blow some fresh air into City Hall.
This is the start of an amazing seven month marathon. I am gratified by the depth of support I’ve seen so far, and am convinced this is the year we’ll finally bring positive change to city hall. This is our time. I thank you all for joining me on this journey.