News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 27, 2012

City looks to sell parking lot

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — City officials are laying the groundwork for selling a small downtown parking lot for potential large-scale development.

For sale would be a 33-car parking lot at the corner of Fifth Street and Wabash Avenue. The land has been appraised, and a minimum sale price would be $118,000, city officials have said.

However, in addition to the highest bid, a potential buyer would have to meet additional conditions, which were approved by the Board of Works in a unanimous vote Monday afternoon.

Those conditions would encourage any potential buyer to develop the site as part of a much bigger project including adjacent properties. In other words, a buyer would not be permitted to simply build a small, stand-alone business on the site.

“We don’t want one of those Tropical Snows” there, said Rhonda Oldham, an attorney for the Department of Redevelopment, who presented the conditions to the five-person board.

Another condition for a sale would require a buyer to begin construction within 14 months of purchase. A further condition would limit development to the downtown’s zoning rules, and another would require a site plan from a developer.

“We want to be sure someone will do something with it,” Oldham said.

Mayor Bennett, reached after the meeting, said he favors the conditions for the sale, which he said were a result of discussions between him and officials in the Department of Redevelopment. Because the site is within the downtown “tax increment finance” (TIF) district, any large-scale development there will likely involve the department, the mayor said.

The Department of Redevelopment manages the city’s various TIF districts.

At Monday afternoon’s meeting, Ben Orman, a downtown property owner, asked the board to add a further condition to allow the parking lot to remain available for public parking as long as possible before development begins. Everyone who parks in that two-hour lot spends money downtown and those spaces are important for downtown businesses, he said.

The site’s conversion to a public parking lot is a fairly recent development, responded Bob Murray, president of the board. “I don’t think we want to tie the hands of anybody who is willing to do anything. We’ve seen a lot of property purchased downtown and sit and rot,” he said.

The board – whose members are appointed by the mayor – did not adopt Orman’s suggested condition.

Todd Nation, a member of the City Council who represents much of the downtown, voted at this month’s regular council meeting against allowing the sale of the property. Reached Monday, Nation said he would be able to support the sale if he had more information about what is planned for the site and if those plans include preserving historic buildings on Wabash Avenue.

Bennett said there have been no formal proposals for the use of the site. However, he acknowledged that Indiana State University has an interest in developing much of that block for student housing.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.