Firestone Factory

Noblesville’s Firestone plant closed eight years ago. Shortly thereafter the company auctioned off the contents of the building and demolished it.

Here’s what it looked like in May, 2009.

Here’s what it looks like now.

When the facility was built in 1936s it was on the outskirts of town. Noblesville kind of grew around it and now it’s between the center of town and our major retail area along SR 37. Although it is now surrounded by a chain link fence and barbed wire, it is geographically in a very desirable location. It is within walking distance of most of our city’s major retail stores, the courthouse square, schools, other neighborhoods and many businesses. It’s exactly the kind of location a savvy developer would latch on to in a heartbeat, except for a few complications.

20th century industry could be a dirty proposition. Many manufacturing plants required toxic chemicals to manufacture their products. This plant actually built treads for tanks in World War II, along with many other products like fan belts, hoses, mud flaps, gaskets, and, of course, tires. Disposal requirements for toxic chemiicals in those days were lax, and the company was permitted to dump waste chemicals on the site. The rules are different now but we as a city are stuck with the legacy of what was at one time the county’s largest employer.

The easiest thing to do is just fence it off and let someone else in the future figure it out, but that’s not the right thing to do. It’s been 8 years; it’s time to do something. My friend Brenda Cook, a REALTOR and leader of the North Side Crimewatch group, has been thinking the same thing. She expressed her frustration recently on the Next Door social media site, commenting in the context of the recent proposal to build townhomes on the site of Seminary Park, and after a heated exchange with a city council member:

"I am not stupid nor am I disillusioned that the current problem is a result if the current council or Mayor. But it seems they want to take the easy way out. Letting the Firestone land sit there - an eyesore to that neighborhood, a hazardous waste dump site- while listening to a proposal to destroy city green space, shows clear lack of caring for our community and a way to make a quick buck in the process. Why not be the council/administration/Park Board that takes a wasteland and make a park - clean up the chemical-laced land and have a place that neighborhood area can call home again. Just like back in the glory days!

If our current mayor is trying to be like the mayor of Carmel as some suggest, then he would know that the excuses made by this council member regarding cleanup, EPA, IDEM, etc. of the hazardous waste site aka Firestone, was just that-an excuse. Brainard inherited several Brownfield study, hazardous sites in old town Carmel. (I worked for him during that time.) It did not take long at all with a committed group of council and administration to clean up the dry cleaners location or the mill on Main Street, etc. it took a plan and commitment to clean up the site! A goal, a plan, the creative ways to make it happen (yes and funding too). Doesn't the City even have a grant writer on staff? Paying her 50k+ a year? We can not be the only city in this great nation that has a former industrial site within downtown that needs cleaned up!"

Well said, Brenda. And, she knows what she’s talking about. She’s been around the block a few times, having worked for both the cities of Carmel and Noblesville. It’s tough to fool her because she’s handled these kinds of issues and she’s exactly right that it’s not impossible, it’s just hard. It takes commitment, energy, persistence and vision to make this kind thing happen. What are we waiting for?

I’m pretty sure the city doesn’t have a grant writer anymore because I know the person who used to hold the job and she works somewhere else now. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be seeking help on this. Brenda is right that we can’t be the only city struggling to find ways to clean up after old industry. The Federal government offers assistance and maybe we’ve been looking into it. But its time for results. We’ve let that land sit idle for 8 years and that’s plenty long enough.

So, what should we do with it? I am, of course, open to suggestions but to get the ball rolling I’d like to throw out a few ideas of my own.

First, I reject the idea that it has to continue to be some kind of industrial site. That’s what it WAS but that’s now what I should be. I have heard people suggest it as a site for a school bus garage or other transportation hub of some sort. Bad idea. As noted, its right in the middle of town. It is prime land, it just has to be cleaned up.

So, presuming we clean it up, what’s the best use for it? I will repeat my observation of its proximity to many city amenities and suggest that it ought to be mixed use commercial and residential. I believe the southwest part, which currently resembles a park, should become a real park (not a dog park as I don’t think there’s enough room for running and fetching). I would suggest that the concrete pad, which Firestone left intact, if it isn’t polluted, be used as a foundation for housing, office and retail. There may even be some room for some single-family homes here.

The entire development would be walkable and connected to both downtown, schools and the businesses along 37 with trails as well as streets. This could be a very appealing area for millennials starting out and empty nesters who want to live close in. In anticipation of the owner’s generous cooperation and financial assistance I suggest we call it Firestone Village.

Let’s take this eyesore and turn it into something we can be proud of. Yes, it will take time but if we’d have started eight year ago we would be well along the path now.

What do you think?

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