Westfield's Growth and Direction Detailed by Mayor Cook
INDIANAPOLIS, IN The Electric League of Indiana recently played host to Westfield Mayor Tom Cook who gave a spirited and informative presentation on the city's ambitious plans for the future.
"Twenty years ago, Westfield was best known for having the state's largest Dairy Queen," Cook said. "But even then, it was evident that opportunities for growth would arise along with the inevitable question: What are we going to do about that impending growth?"
Answering that key question was what drove Cook to become the city's first mayor in 2008.
A central theme of Cook's presentation - and of Westfield's recent and substantial growth spurt - was the development of U.S. 31 into a four-lane expressway and the opportunities for new industry, both public and private, that it created.
"No one would invest along that corridor that goes right up the gut of Westfield until they knew what was going to happen. Now, it is a huge asset," said Cook.
Cook said that the recession that hit in 2008 was actually a benefit to the city's development. "Before 2009, our growth was just beginning to accelerate. We had a lot of new home development but not very much good planning. Most of the homes were smaller, starter homes. The recession and the slow-down in development gave us an opportunity to pause and lay out a direction about where the city wanted to go."
The tax caps that then-Governor Mitch Daniels imposed were another key development. "Before those caps, our school tax was very high and nearly double that of our neighbor, Carmel," he said. "The tax cap took taxes down to what Carmel has and this opened the floodgates for new residents who might have been discouraged by higher tax rates."
Under Cook's tenure, Westfield has ventured into very lucrative, if not also controversial, methods to raise funds to allow for creative and expensive public developments. The sale of their water and sewer public utilities to Citizens Energy allowed the city to pay off over $45 million in debt and realize an additional $44 million in profit.
A commission appointed by the Mayor explored optimal ways for the city to garner an increased commercial tax base that was viewed as the key to further development and improvements in the quality of life for its residents. They decided not to challenge Carmel in attracting a core of office space development and knew that manufacturing did not fit the demographics of the mostly white-collar city.
The answer was a decision to court companies that fit into a family, travel and sports theme. The first step was an ambitious and risky gambit: A decision to build the largest sports park in the United States and possibly the world, known now as Grand Park.
A 400-acre sports campus featuring 26 baseball and softball diamonds, 31 multipurpose fields for soccer, football, rugby, field hockey and lacrosse, Grand Park will also feature an indoor soccer facility that will open later this year. An indoor basketball/volleyball facility will open in 2016. Grand Park also features an abundance of green space and more than 10 miles of pedestrian/bicycle trails, including the largest trailhead on the Monon Corridor.
Since opening, the park has experienced more than 830,000 visits exceeding its first year projections.
But the ambitious plans do not stop there: Next up is the creation of Grand Junction Park and Plaza. Included in the plans in the heart of downtown Westfield is an amphitheater, an interactive water play area, an arts garden, a full-size skating rink, a hardscape festival boulevard and a nature area. It will also be the connecting point of the Anna Kendal and Midland Trace Trails, allowing for access to Westfield's complete trail system and other points of interest in the community. Pedestrian-friendly streets will invite visitors and residents alike to explore the park and plaza as well as area restaurants and shops.