JEFFERSONVILLE — Heads up Southern Indiana — Utica is transforming before your eyes from sleepy river town to opportunistic developer, and it took a giant leap forward Monday thanks to River Ridge.
The River Ridge Development Authority at its board meeting donated 100 acres to the town for the creation of a Public Safety Center and emergency shelter, with 75 percent of the acreage being earmarked for residential development.
Combine the plans announced Monday with commercial development eyed along Old Salem Road and suddenly Utica is elbowing its neighbors for economic development bragging rights.
“We’re enthused,” said Steve Long, a member of the Utica Town Council. “I almost got tears in my eyes because it took so long to get there. This is long-time planning for anybody. But it’s a major planner for a town like Utica.
“We got Christmas early today.”
Initial plans for the development off of Patrol Road — the entrance would be adjacent to Bluff Ridge Road — call for a 6,800-square-foot Public Safety Center that will will have room for a town marshal and the handful of the town’s reserve officers, as well as an emergency shelter for 240 people, with a rescue area and a heliport nearby.
The need for such a facility was amplified in February when flooding inundated the low-lying town.
“You’ve got to remember we’re a small board and we had a flood that set us back,” Long said, calling Monday’s announcement the topping on the cake. “We’ve had other difficulties, and we’re not talking about them today. We’re a positive sign only.”
The emergency facility will have room for ambulances and the heliport, which Long said is a first for the area. Not even River Ridge has one, according to Long.
“We have to have it, because it saves lives,” he said. “There’s no place to land a helicopter in Utica unless it’s in a farm field.”
Another game-changing piece to the project would be the development of 65 lots on 75 acres for homes and a nature preserve that would surround the Public Safety Center. It’s significant because the development would be adjacent to River Ridge’s Gateway Office Park project, which is planned as a regional showpiece at the first exit off of the Lewis and Clark Bridge.
“We’re excited about it, and we’re looking forward to working with River Ridge and being compatible with what they’ve got going on with their office complex and the development there,” said Utica Town Councilman Hank Dorman. “We’re just tickled to death. We’re looking forward to getting this on the road.”
Town planner Sharon Wilson said she expects to have design guidelines ready within the next six months, and then requests for proposals will be issued to developers interested in the project. Initial cost estimates for the Public Safety Center have hovered around $1 million, and the town will look to tax increment financing district dollars and possible grant money for funding.
The development authority unanimously adopted the resolution for the land transfer, and a quitclaim deed will be executed to quickly convey the parcel. Utica is required to submit its final plan to the development authority for approval, as well as the OK from the master developer of the Gateway Office Park.
“The town of Utica did deliver a letter wanting to work together and for cooperation on each side, and wants what’s best for both of us,” Edward Meyer, a member of the development authority, said during Monday’s meeting. “I think that’s nice, too.”
Long said Utica officials will be working at “300 mph” to make the project a reality. The town is moving quickly with other developments, too, eyeing big-time names like Marriott hotels and Cracker Barrel for the Old Salem Road project.
Utica, it seems, has arrived.
“We’ve got a lot going on,” Dorman said. “The future looks real bright for Utica. And we’re real excited.”