Carmel residents divided over proposed carousel, hotel projects

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CARMEL, Ind. -- The debate known as “CarouselGate” in Carmel is still dividing its residents.

People filled nearly every seat at Monday night’s city council meeting.

Mayor Jim Brainard is proposing the city borrow $76 million via a bond that would finance variety of road, infrastructure and community improvement projects.

Most came to show their opposition to two particular projects in person.

“I say it’s kind of my Jerry Maguire moment because you know, when I put it out there, I had no idea whether it would get five votes or 50 votes,” said resident Tim Hannon, who was the first to begin gathering support for the opposition.

His petition now has over 900 people singing the same song. All are shocked and frustrated seeing the city consider spending about $5 million to buy, move and build up a location for an antique carousel and still more money to help build a luxury hotel.

“We want to make clear that we aren’t against carousels, we’re not against nice hotels, we just don’t think that these warrant taxpayer funding,” said Hannon.

A smaller number of people stated they’re in favor of the projects.

“The issue ultimately comes down to what kind of amenities does Carmel want to invest in?” asked Carmel Redevelopment Commission member Henry Mestetsky rhetorically. “Carmel and especially Mayor Brainard have a track record of doing it right.”

Mestetsky started a petition in support of both projects, which about 300 others have now signed. He says he did so, not as a member of the government, but as a private citizen with a 2-year-old daughter he think would enjoy using the carousel.

He believes other families want a carousel as much as he does.

Plus, he and the mayor argue the proposed four-star hotel would have a multiplier effect, bringing other new businesses to the city.

But the opponents still questioned why funding a hotel can’t just be left to a developer.

A representative for the hotel admitted it would be hard to attract private companies to build here on their own.

Mestetsky says that’s because a private company doesn’t care about how a community benefits from its investment, but the government does. That’s why he believes public-private partnerships are sometimes necessary.

Knowing a private hotelier likely wouldn’t take on the project on their own is what worries some of the opponents. They’re concerned about how much the city will be on the hook for if the hotel fails.

Councilors also had specific questions about return on investment for both projects that couldn’t all be answered during the public hearings and presentation.

Another meeting with finance committee to discuss it all is set for next Tuesday at City Hall.