The Riverwalk.
The Riverwalk.

2017 was a busy year in Noblesville, as residents saw a surge of commercial development with projects like Federal Hills Commons, the Riverwalk, and a 5-way roundabout finishing up, and the closing of the Nickel Plate Railroad.

The Nickel Plate decision was a divisive controversy that split the community and spurred some residents to mobilize and form an independent “Save the Train” organization. Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear reflected on the achievements, challenges, major events in the city.

Ditslear’s favorite accomplishment of 2017 was the completion of Federal Hills Commons in May. The park was a 4-year project designed as a “year-round” park to entertain families, host music, and hold events. The park is also the first Noblesville Park to provide free public Wi-Fi.

“It has become the new home to many city traditions like the farmer’s market and Shakespeare in the Park,” said Ditslear. “It also has hosted musical concerts, special events and even outside events like the Mac & Cheese Festival and ZPL Kid Fest that relocated to Noblesville because of the park. This winter’s Ice Plaza has been a hit and we’ve seen a wonderful turnout.”

Ditslear also referenced the creation of a traffic circle on Allisonville road, creating a “gateway to Noblesville,” the initial construction on the Midland Trace Trail that will open in 2018, technological advancements within the Noblesville Police Department, and work by the Noblesville Utilities Department which began Phase 4 of their Long Term Control Plan to address separating of storm and sewer lines in northern Old Town, as some of the city’s major successes of 2017.

Like many mayors, one of the major challenges Ditslear faced this year was funding.
“Funding is generally the biggest challenge the city faces,” said Ditslear. “We are looking at two major road projects with State Road 37 and the extension of Pleasant Street. Each project comes with a hefty price tag so we are working with our peers at the state and county level for assistance to make necessary upgrades to each major thoroughfare.”

Though the budget may have been the city’s highest concern, many residents spent the year rallying for the Nickel Plate Railroad which was shut down by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority in September. The Nickel Plate, operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum, was a 34-mile line that ran from Noblesville to Indianapolis: a local tradition for many, particularly for its annual Fair Train and Polar Express.

The ITM was ordered to cease operations in 2016 by the IHHPA because of unsafe track conditions and other maintenance hazards. In early 2017, the Port Authority called for proposals from rail line companies, seeking out potential operators for the railroad.

Though the ITM was among these applicants, in July, the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad was selected to operate the line. A move that upset many residents as the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad proposed only operating the northern half of the line. 

This controversy sparked a grassroots “Save the Nickel Plate” group that worked all year to rally support for the full Indianapolis to Noblesville operation of the train. Through documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the group alleged that Ditslear and Fisher’s mayor Scott Fadness were planning on ripping up an intact, usable stretch of track connecting their communities to build a walking and bike trail.

Despite the controversy, Ditslear feels confident in his and the Port Authority’s decisions regarding the Nickel Plate, citing social media hype as a source for much of the discord.

“I have no regrets on the decisions made about the future of the Nickel Plate,” he said. “I regret the misinformation that was purposely put out on social media that residents believed to be true. One of the other disappointing aspects of this project has been the way individuals have been treating others with differing viewpoints. We have a wonderful city, but this topic has become divisive and a detriment to the community because it is running down Noblesville. Whether you are for trains or for trails, we still have a great city and we should not lose focus on that.”

The transportation Museum was also recently closed as the Noblesville Parks and Recreation Board announced it would not be renewing its lease with the group.

Despite the divisiveness, Ditslear hopes the anticipated trails will ease some of the public animosity regarding the train.
“I believe we are taking steps to resolve the issue but there are still steps in the process that will take place in 2018,” said Ditslear. “Unfortunately, even when the community sees the Nickel Plate Express running and providing fun, safe trips through Noblesville I don’t see a complete resolution from everyone. In this job, unfortunately you can’t make everyone pleased with every decision you make, but I know we have made the right decision – it just may take time for others to see it as well. We have saved the train and will provide a new amenity to go along with it.”

Though the excitement of 2017 is coming to a close, Noblesville residents can expect a steady stream of construction and economic initiatives on the horizon. 2018 will see the opening of the Finch Creek Park Fieldhouse, the Midland Trace Trail, an Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center, and a new BorgWarner facility. The city will be also be adding two bike sharing locations in downtown Noblesville next year.

Additionally, 2018 will launch the first phase of construction of Finch Creek Park out near Boden Road, an expansion of numerous trails such as the Riverwalk, and the city will begin construction on a phosphorus removal plant, after an unfunded mandate was announced by the Federal Government. The city will also continue exploring options for creating a “connector” route from the east and west sides of Noblesville.

2018 could be a year of beautification as well as Common Council’s Downtown District Committee and planning Department hash out their comprehensive streetscape master plan.

“Essentially, the goal is to create a wow factor so people know when they enter and leave downtown Noblesville,” said Ditslear. “The plan is in the early stages, but it will extend the downtown borders further out from the Square and create a more functional space for cars and people.”