MT. COMFORT — Hancock Health and NineStar Connect want to invest an estimated $23 million in infrastructure for a business park surrounding the new Gateway Hancock Health. They also want future property taxes from developments made possible by that infrastructure to pay them back for it.

The Gateway Hancock Health medical facility that recently opened at I-70 and Mt. Comfort Road is the first of what the hospital hopes to be many developments on the 138-acre site. Landowner Hancock Health secured zoning to welcome a variety of uses, including corporate, retail, hospitality, education and open space preserving natural outdoor features.

Jerimi Ullom, an attorney with Hall Render in Indianapolis representing Hancock Health, told the Hancock County Redevelopment Commission last week that best estimates suggest $230 million in development could happen at Hancock Gateway Park.

Before that can happen, the land needs infrastructure like streets, stormwater drainage, lighting, utilities, erosion control and landscaping.

That’s expected to cost about $20 million, Ullom said.

NineStar Connect, the Greenfield-based utility cooperative, plans to extend water service from the former Gem water plant it owns just south of U.S. 40 on County Road 500W to Hancock Gateway Park, a distance of about three miles. The utility also plans to build a 500,000-gallon water tower on the site. NineStar estimates the projects will total almost $3.4 million.

Michael Burrow, president and CEO of NineStar Connect, said at the meeting that the water tower will not only promote what Hancock Health does at the site, but the potential for future development as well.

“When you see a water tower, you know that the infrastructure’s in place; it’s shovel-ready as it can be,” Burrow said.

Hancock Health and NineStar Connect propose buying bonds to fund Hancock Gateway Park’s infrastructure and have property tax revenue generated from future development at the site repay those bond issues.

“They’re willing to make the investment,” Ullom said on behalf of his client, the hospital, “and the notion is then that they would have the opportunity to recoup the investment from the future development that’s generated by the infrastructure investment.”

The plan calls for designating the Hancock Gateway Park property as a distinct tax allocation area, which would last for 25 years. Ullom said estimates have yet to be determined on how long it would take the hospital to recover its investment, adding it will depend on what develops, how quickly it develops and how much in property taxes developments generate.

“Hancock Health is taking that risk,” Ullom said. “We’re confident in this area; we feel there will be sufficient development to recoup those dollars.”

Steve Long, president and CEO of Hancock Health, agreed.

“We believe that we need to have skin in the game,” he said at the meeting.

The Gateway Hancock Health property is already in an area that sets aside property tax revenue from new development for funding infrastructure and improvement projects. Because NineStar’s improvements would benefit Gateway and the larger surrounding tax allocation area, it’s possible the utility could recoup its bond issue from taxes generated in the larger area, Ullom said.

Lisa Lee, an attorney with Ice Miller who provides legal counsel to the Hancock County Redevelopment Commission, said the process to create the allocation area Hancock Health is seeking starts with the redevelopment commission and would also require approvals from the county’s plan commission and commissioners. A public hearing is required as well, she added.

Redevelopment commission members cast a unanimous expression of support for Lee to work with the commission’s financial advisers on preparing information for them to consider regarding the proposal.

Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, pointed to the $230 million in development the hospital estimates for Hancock Gateway Park along with a $78 million spec-building investment in another part of Mt. Comfort, which Ambrose Property Group discussed earlier in the session. He said it was the largest set of numbers the county has ever encountered in one meeting.

“That’s all happening in one morning,” Sorrell said. “This will change the face of this county way past our lifetimes.”
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