Branding, McCordsville congestion focus of Mt. Comfort study


MT. COMFORT — Pick a name and stick with it.

A group of land-use and economic development experts from across the country recently advised local leaders on how to best attract and control growth along the Mt. Comfort Corridor in western Hancock County.

One of their suggestions is to brand the 15-mile-long road connecting McCordsville to New Palestine as Mt. Comfort Road, not County Road 600W or Olio Road — something that has confused motorists for years.

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Members of the Urban Land Institute panel, which mainly included specialists from New York and California, presented the findings of their study last Friday after they spent a week interviewing dozens of local stakeholders. ULI is a nonprofit organization with offices in Washington D.C., Hong Kong, London and Frankfurt, Germany. It conducts 15 to 20 studies worldwide each year.

The towns of McCordsville, New Palestine and Cumberland and Hancock County each contributed $10,000 to the $135,000 research study. Several other local businesses and organizations, including NineStar Connect, Hancock Health and Greenfield Banking Co., helped fund the contract with ULI.

Panel members told the crowd of more than 100 gathered at NineStar Connect for the wrap-up session that not only does the road need a sole name, but it needs better branding and signage along the corridor. They said the towns and area organizations should collaborate to establish consistent messaging, such as a corridor logo or slogan.

Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, said he was encouraged by the ULI panel’s thoughts on branding. He said not only does the community need to better understand the corridor, but it also needs to become a place on the map for people passing through.

“What makes them know that they’re in Hancock County?” Sorrell said.

On the north end of the corridor, the panel advised officials to make it a top priority to fix the congestion at State Road 67/U.S. 36, also named West Broadway, in the heart of McCordsville. The intersection, which is also near train tracks, backs up every day during rush hour.

Tonya Galbraith, town manager of McCordsville, said she was glad the ULI panel recognized the intersection needed a reconfiguration. That project is on the top of the town’s list of priorities, she said.

“It’s good they’re seeing what we’re seeing,” Galbraith said about the ULI panel.

Galbraith said McCordsville recently submitted a grant proposal to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization to reroute Mt. Comfort Road as an overpass above the train tracks.

The ULI presentation outlined “nodes” of development along the corridor in McCordsville, Cumberland, New Palestine and at the road’s interchange with Interstate 70. There, Hancock Health is building a low-cost diagnostic center. The health center could open in July.

Steve Long, president and CEO of Hancock Health, said the nodes allow the corridor to focus on different areas for growth. He said the entire 15 mile corridor cannot be developed at once; it will have to be done in bits.

For Hancock Health, the diagnostic center, which is a node in the ULI study, is one part of the hospital’s “western strategy” along the corridor. Hancock Health has created fitness centers in McCordsville and New Palestine and could build a second hospital at some point in the corridor, Long said.

The study also recommended adding more diverse housing options along the corridor. Most housing developments in McCordsville, New Palestine and Cumberland have been new single-family homes. The panel suggested more apartments and townhouses mixed in with retail stores, restaurants, trails and parks.

In order to help town and business leaders in the Mt. Comfort Corridor to remain in collaboration like they have, the panel advised officials to create a public-private partnership focused on infrastructure and economic development in the corridor. It could be a combination of town employees and businesses.

The western Hancock County towns have already been working together informally for years, Long said, and they collaborated recently on an application for the Stellar Communities grant program.

“I think that the foundation for whatever that future group looks like is already there, it’s just going to be how do we formalize that — and I think that will happen relatively quickly,” Long said.

ULI intends to release a complete written study in the next few months.

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Main points from the Urban Land Institute study of the Mt. Comfort Corridor

  • Choose a name — Mt. Comfort Road
  • Develop consistent branding, signage in corridor
  • Mixed-used housing near food and retail
  • More hotels along the corridor
  • Extend IndyGo, develop transit options for workers
  • Strengthen relationships with agriculture community; pull in ag-related businesses and more farm-to-table restaurants
  • Ready the corridor for electric vehicle charge points
  • Prioritize the reconfiguration of the McCordsville intersection
  • Create a public-private partnership focused on development 
  • Create notes of development along corridor
  • Consolidate design standards among towns
  • Build more trails, parks to connect towns

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Mt. Comfort pastor is leading effort to preserve the area’s sense of community as it is transformed. Page A6