Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 delegates take learning trip to Carmel

Representatives and stakeholders for Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 recently attended a learning trip to Carmel, Indiana. On July 12 and 13, the group heard about various city topics, such as roundabouts, Carmel’s Arts & Design District, the city’s neighborhoods, The Center for the Performing Arts and its various resident companies.

Attendees included:

  • Sarasota County Commissioner Susan Chapman
  • Sarasota City Manager Thomas Barwin
  • Mary Bensel, CEO of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
  • Monica Van Buskirk, CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation
  • Barbara Brosius with the Van Wezel Foundation
  • Joe McKenna, CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra
  • Cathy Wilson, director of finance for the Sarasota Orchestra
  • Gordon Greenfield with the Sarasota Orchestra
  • Jay Hunsberger with the Sarasota Orchestra
  • Frank and Anne Folsom-Smith, a board member of the Sarasota Orchestra
  • Shantel Norman with Visit Sarasota County

 Mayor Brainard opened the first session by introducing his team and providing a briefing on Carmel and how it redeveloped the city’s older area where services and expensive infrastructures already exist. Carmel’s population is more than 80,000, and the city is close to 50 square miles long.

The mayor indicated that the main focus of the project was on architecture. Mayor Brainard told representatives that the city and real estate developers developed a partnership where they worked together on this redevelopment.

As part of this, the redevelopment area had specific boundaries with a base tax year being established. The primary tool provided by the state law is Tax Incremental Financing (TIF). For up to 25 years, all increases in business property taxes (not single-family taxes) are funneled into the fund in that base year for redevelopment. The redevelopment fund is then used to pay interest and principals on loans to redevelop the area. The proceeds are used for streetscapes, redevelopment of the project and some parking structures.


Carmel is internationally known for roundabouts. Mayor Brainard had researched journal articles at Purdue University’s engineering library. After showing them to engineers, the city built its first roundabout in Carmel in 1997. Brainard explained that the U.S Department of Transportation didn’t have specifications for roundabouts and that they used Australian roundabout specifications.

The roundabouts were built primarily to make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to navigate and to promote safety. Injury accidents have been reduced by 80 percent and overall number of accidents by 40 percent. Now, Carmel has 97 roundabouts, but by the end of the year, with 30 to 40 more planned, that number will increase to well over 100. That is more than any other city in the United States.

Carmel’s Arts and Design District

Mayor Brainard took the group on a walking tour of Carmel’s Arts and Design District, which is the Midwest’s premier arts and design destination. Named as one of the best places to live in America by Money Magazine and American City Business Journal, it is home to over 100 businesses, including art galleries, showrooms, interior designers, restaurants and a variety of specialty shops.

Developers in Carmel have built a mix of retail and residential units. This has contributed to retail spending of two times the national average.

The city invested more than $10 million on the renovation of Old Town Carmel with upgrades such as brick sidewalks, signage to create a historic look and street lighting.

On each street, public art and sculptures are featured and businesses offer different arts classes.

The Center for the Performing Arts

The mayor led the tour through the Center for the Performing Arts, but it concluded with CEO Tania Castroverde. The goals of the center prior to being built included the following:

  1. Serve as a regional cultural venue
  2. Meet facility need for local and regional arts organizations
  3. Create a unique facility that address unmet space needs in the area
  4. Meet world-class standards of acoustics and performance quality
  5. Provide economic benefits for the Indianapolis area

Each theatre has various seating and acoustics based on the needs of various organizations.

Concert Hall (Palladium)

  • 1,600 seats
  • Highest-quality acoustics
  • Accommodates wide range of musical performances

Multi-Purpose Drama Theatre (Tarkington)

  • 500 seats
  • Proscenium-style auditorium
  • Accommodates drama, dance and musical performances

Black Box Theater (The Studio Theater)

  • 200 seats
  • Flex-seating auditorium

The Center for the Performing Arts is funded through a public-private partnership. The City of Carmel issued $80 million in bonds payable from taxes for new commercial developments in special economic development districts. Residential taxes were not used in financing the Performing Arts Center’s design and construction.

The City of Carmel owns the center and the Carmel Performing Arts Foundation, Inc. (CPAF), a non-profit organization. The CPAF board of directors hired the Center’s executive director, set policies and raised annual operating funds and endowment.

There are two city-owned buildings of the Center for the Performing Arts, the 1,600-seat Palladium, which cost $130 million. The second building cost $47.5 million and consists of a 500-seat theater and a 200-seat theater. The second building has a parking deck and offices as well.

The funds used to build the Palladium along with the Studio, Tarkington Theaters and parking garages came from the 38 TIF bonds from the districts. When TIF districts expire the bonds will be paid in full back to the community in the form of county, city, township, school tax income and library.

Finally, Mr. Nick Tigue, vice president of operations for The Center for the Performing Arts, took the representatives on a tour to view the Palladium, Tarkington Theatre and The Studio Theater.

The Center for the Performing Arts has six resident companies that are independently owned nonprofit organizations with their own staff and board of directors, but call the Center for the Performing Arts their home. These include Actors Theatre of Indiana, Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Carmel Symphony Orchestra, Central Indiana Dance Ensemble, Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre and the Indiana Wind Symphony.

Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 also had the opportunity to meet three of the resident companies from the Booth Tarkington, Carmel Symphony Orchestra and Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre.