SPOTLIGHTING MAYOR DITSLEAR’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO DOWNTOWN
The administration of Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear comes to an end December 31, closing out the career of the longest-tenured mayor in the city’s history. In the final edition of the Noblesville 20/20 series, Noblesville Magazine looks at how the historic downtown has been supported by Ditslear during his 16 years in office and his vision to strengthen and expand the authentic core of the community.
“The heart of it all.” That’s how Ditslear refers to downtown. And for good reason.
In addition to serving as the administrative center for both city and county government, downtown is home to an eclectic mix of businesses. Putting the “hip” in “Hipstoric” are the mom-and-pop shops, trendy boutiques, gift stores, antique dealers and more than a dozen restaurants, cafés, delis, diners and breweries that fill the square — not to mention every type of service provider imaginable.
Given the importance of Noblesville’s downtown to the community’s identity, the city has supported the Central Business District by investing in the infrastructure, maintenance and amenities that have improved the overall experience for local citizens and out-of-town visitors.
The proof is evident on nearly every building thanks to the City of Noblesville Façade Improvement Grant Program. Created in 2008 by the economic development department and funded by the Noblesville Common Council, 69 façade grant projects have been completed thus far, stimulated by $2M in investment, including $1.1M in private spending. Businesses such as Moonshot Games, Uptown Café and Primeval Brewing are just a few examples that received matching funds through the grant program.
As a result, the downtown has never looked better. Nor has the downtown ever been busier with nearly 100% of street-front commercial real estate space currently occupied. And for his final year in office, Ditslear won approval by the Noblesville Common Council to dedicate two full-time workers and the equipment for downtown maintenance and general upkeep on a daily basis.
“This investment will enable us to raise the bar to keep downtown looking spectacular, each and every day,” Ditslear says. “And to better support downtown, our street department will now take care of snow removal from downtown sidewalks so businesses no longer have to.”
The city’s investment has been much appreciated by building owners around the square.
“The façade grant program available through the city has been invaluable, allowing us to pursue improvements that, otherwise, may not have been possible at the time,” says Robyn Littler, co-owner of Noble Coffee & Tea Co. along with her husband Mark. “Further, for other downtown specific issues, namely parking, the city has hosted a number of open meetings, permitting all citizens to voice their concerns and opinions. Lastly, as a merchant with a great deal of sidewalk in front of their shop, I’m particularly excited to learn that the city will be salting the wintery walkways this year.”
As with most thriving downtowns, the key to success has been strong community support. Groups such as Noblesville Main Street and Nickel Plate Arts have been crucial partners. More than 300 cultural arts events are offered each year through collaborative efforts of diverse organizations that draw more and more people to downtown. For one such event, Main Street’s annual Street Dance itself sees more than 10,000 revelers packing the square on a single night.
Mayor Ditslear’s favorite event remains the annual city-ran Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks Festival. It typically attracts more than 15,000 residents who line the streets leading to the patriotic parade and festival that celebrate the country’s independence. Last year, Ditslear moved the festival to Forest Park to expand the event — one that the community enjoyed so much it will return in 2020.
“The parade is just one example of the many traditions that are important to Noblesville and that I’ve been honored to take part in,” Ditslear says. “Our city may grow and change, but I love the hometown spirit and small-town feel that brings people out to watch and participate year after year.”
Because of its charm, downtown is attracting more residents who want to live in an urban, walkable environment with connectivity to amenities. A brief stroll or bike ride connects the square with Seminary Park, Southside Park, Federal Hill Commons, Forest Park, and further out, Potter’s Bridge Park. These connections were made possible thanks to joint city-county funding of the Riverwalk, White River Greenway Trail and, by the end of 2019, the new pedestrian bridge along Logan Street.
Despite all the focus on downtown, it took a major push from the city to jumpstart construction on its first mixed-use development in more than a century – the Levinson.
The objectives of this transformational in-fill initiative were to fill a need for a housing type identified by the 2016 housing analysis, attract more residents to live downtown and support local merchants, create more of a nighttime culture and meet the demand for greater parking capacity. Initiated by Ditslear as one of the top priorities of the Noblesville NOW capital improvement plan announced in 2018, the $24.3M public-private project is replacing a parking lot with a Hipstoric-worthy, architecturally significant building, adding 83 high-end apartments plus 5,000 square feet of commercial space and the downtown’s first parking facility.
If Ditslear’s time in office is remembered for any single project, while there are many contenders such as the Levinson or expanding 146th Street east of State Road 37 — Federal Hill Commons is the likely top choice. Nestled within the newly created Federal Hill District, the urban park and amphitheater built in 2017 was envisioned with the goal to expand downtown across the White River and create a new western gateway to the historic square.
This expansion brought even more quality-of-life amenities to downtown such as outdoor concerts, theater productions, festivals, event space, greenspace, a new playground and an expanded farmer’s market. Its bold rendering led to securing a prominent neighbor to the west — the international headquarters of BlueSky Creative and several businesses that were new to Noblesville. And with the Ice Plaza now entering its third year, Federal Hill Commons is a year-round destination with the wintertime ice-skating rink having grown into a new family holiday tradition.
Looking ahead, Ditslear’s vision for the Federal Hill District will surely serve as a catalyst for the future economic development opportunities to come — including the potential for more mixed-use projects and a more prominent role for the White River flowing through the heart of downtown.
NOBLESVILLE 20/20: A COMMUNITY IN TRANSITION
The Noblesville community has grown considerably under the leadership of John Ditslear since he became mayor in 2004. Investment throughout its entire 36 square miles — not just in downtown — has led the city beyond its humble origins. The population has soared by 57%. The miles of roadways patrolled by police and maintained by street department crews have grown by 72%.
With this growth, one would expect challenges. However, city leadership has strategically tackled those inherent challenges head-on. In 2019, the Noblesville Police Department recorded a successful 34% drop in violent and property crime. The Noblesville Fire Department consistently achieves stellar response times to emergency calls. Higher standards have been put in place to ensure quality construction for new developments. Sewers and utilities have been expanded to meet greater demand.
Through it all, Ditslear’s stewardship has preserved what makes Noblesville so special. He, his department directors and their staff have worked diligently through four terms to put Noblesville on a course for an even brighter future. They have set the stage for the next administration to carry on the many initiatives that have only begun and paved the way for what Noblesville can and will be for generations to come.
“I truly love this city and the people who make up our community,” Ditslear says. “I’m proud of the work we have done, the progress we have made and Noblesville’s positive reputation as I leave office. The years I have been honored to serve as mayor have been the most rewarding of my life, and I thank the residents for entrusting me with this honor.”
View a video in tribute to Mayor Ditslear on the city’s YouTube page at youtube.com/CityofNoblesville.