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Construction one step closer on Ben Hur Building


Developers are one step closer to starting construction on the highly-anticipated Ben Hur project, Mayor Todd Barton said Monday.

Indianapolis-based AP Development is awaiting the final approval of a TIF district that will be established to help fund the transformation of the long-vacant downtown landmark into a hotel and apartments.

Crews should then be ready to begin cleanup and demolition work on the building, probably after the first of the year, Barton said during a virtual meeting of the City Council’s Fiscal Affairs Committee.

When will construction get underway is “the No. 1 asked question in Crawfordsville,” Barton added.

The committee gave a favorable recommendation to a resolution expressing support for the TIF district, which will generate funding from property taxes paid by Ben Hur. In the final step of the process, the full council is expected to vote on the resolution next week.

The city is set to meet with the developer this week to finalize the construction timetable, Barton said.

A message was left with AP Development President Jon Anderson seeking an update on the project.

AP Development gained control of the building from the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners in 2018 after years of failed revitalization efforts. The company has renovated historic properties across the state into housing and mixed-use spaces.

In other business, the committee received the 2021 budgets for city utilities, including Crawfordsville Electric Light & Power.

CEL&P’s budget is up about 2% from the current year because the utility expects to be paying more for power and employee health insurance, Utility Service Board president Don Swearingen said.

The utility saw a decrease in system consumption sales this year, reflecting an industry-wide slump amid the coronavirus pandemic. Sales were down 7% from the previous year, Swearingen said. CEL&P is awaiting approval from regulators for a two-phase rate increase that is expected to begin next year. The proposed rates would raise the average residential bill 14.5% by 2022, or an additional $12.83 per month. The increase would still leave CEL&P with some of the lowest rates in the state.

Negotiations are currently underway with the state’s Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which represents bill payers in rate increase requests.

“They’ve asked a lot of good questions and tough questions,” CEL&P manager Phil Goode said.

The proposal then goes to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for approval before the final rates and tariff are brought to the City Council.

A separate 3% rider took effect in October to make up revenue lost from an earlier rate formula error.

“We are getting to catch up a little bit there … but we’re just now getting what we were supposed to get back in 2015 [when the current rates took effect],” Swearingen said.