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Westfield, Prepare Your Political Jousting Sticks

In this week’s Westfield Redevelopment Commission (RDC) meeting, commission members were updated on the Grand Junction Plaza, once touted by Mayor Andy Cook as what would be Westfield’s “crown jewel," it's a 6-acre, $35 million dollar park in the center of downtown Westfield. In a brief statement, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Todd Burtron, said, “I think it’s important to note that obviously the project has brought a lot of attention; with some individuals in our community, its become a political jousting stick.” While we can’t be one hundred percent sure what he meant, we are prepared to wield our collective lances and take the first jab at the status of the project.

Blaming the conditions of the construction market, Burtron went on to note that cost overruns beyond initial estimates are “not unique to public projects, particularly in Hamilton County.” Having exhausted the entire $35 million dollar BAN (Bond Anticipation Note), borrowed for Grand Junction, these major attractions have been excluded from the budget allowances: the ice rink, the stage structure, and the majority of the vertical structures including the trailhead building and a café. Having paid Land Collective, LLC $4,174,839.82 (from 2014 to current), one might say it was a wasteful use of money given someone's decision to remove or delay the amenities David Rubin spent so much time designing. Thus far, that "someone" seems to be Mr. Lollar and the Mayor.

Commission member Bob Beaudry expressed his concerns saying, “We’re getting a lot less than what was presented to us, as a public” and “It disturbs me, what’s happening here.” To which Public Works Director Jeremy Lollar responded, “No one is more frustrated than me.”

While the permanent ice-skating rink has been excluded from the park, Lollar is making plans to investigate the costs of a temporary structure, much like those used at Carmel’s Palladium and Noblesville’s Federal Hill Commons. As for the vertical structures, the plumbing and electrical work is being roughed-in and piles are being set in the foundations for the structures. This means that DESPITE BEING OUT OF MONEY, there are plans to complete them, one way or another. (There wouldn’t be any need for the rough-ins otherwise.)

In 2019, The Westfield Current’s Anna Skinner wrote, “The $35 million would fund the entire project – everything from landscaping and playground equipment to construction of the amphitheater, ice skating rink, trailhead and more. The $35 million also accounts for issuance and interest costs, which amount to $4 million. Yet we know from the RDC meeting the playground equipment is being paid for via park impact fees and the remainder of the amenities promised will need to be “phased in” or paid for using alternative resources estimated today between $9 and $13 million dollars (to build the vertical structures originally promised.)

Also in a 2019 article, written by Braden Ochs for Towne Post Network, Grand Junction Task Force member Teresa Skelton said, “We didn’t just want a park, we have parks and they’re wonderful. We wanted a ‘wow factor.’” Most residents should be left saying, “Wow,” not because of the gem-of-a-park Westfield leadership has built, but rather, because of the damaging authoritarian behavior being paraded as power and influence, which hasn’t been able to help avoid to the massive funding shortfall or aid in anyone's ability to complete the project as promised.

To add insult to injury, in the final two minutes of the RDC meeting with many questions remaining, the commissioners were threatened with the task of approving the third and final GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price) for Grand Junction. Commission Chairman, Joe Plankis said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we need to move on this because, otherwise, construction will stop tomorrow.” Evidently, Mr. Plankis’s fellow commission members actually believed him.

Westfield’s Finance Committee and City Council plan to hear these updates in their upcoming meetings on December 1st and 14th, respectively, but all you can view the RDC meeting on YouTube (beginning at timestamp 30:53) to know where this project stands today. If you have concerns or questions about being over-promised and underwhelmed by the status of the Grand Junction Plaza or its funding, we recommend reaching out to the City Council and asking them, “Where did the $35 million go?” The current council members certainly aren’t the people to blame, but we feel they have a fiduciary interest in getting the answers.

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