THE HERALD BULLETIN
BY BROOKE KEMP
ELWOOD — After Cattails Golf Club closed in 2011, those who passed by Elwood on Indiana 13 would see a closed car dealership, an overgrown golf course and open land that was primed with a dream of becoming a housing division, but never fulfilled.
Mayor Todd Jones said this view fueled “the perception that Elwood was dying,” but he knew that wasn’t the case.
So, after he was elected in November 2015, Jones sat down with the people he’d be working with as mayor and began discussing their vision for the town’s future.
Golfers play the 17th hole at Elwood Golf Links as several of the Bison Ridge Estates apartment buildings overlook the 17th fairway.
Some residents have already moved into the Bison Ridge Estates housing development being built around Elwood Golf Links in Elwood.
At the end of their discussion, the group decided they wanted to bring a housing development to the area and re-open the city’s golf course.
Today, progress has been made on a $25 million housing development called Bison Ridge Estates, and Elwood Golf Links has become an 18-hole course.
Jones said these projects were the city’s response to the “lack of adequate housing” and economic stability in Elwood, as well as the migration of families north of Hamilton County “because of the cost of living.”
This decision, Jones said, was guided by the goals and needs identified in the city’s comprehensive plan, which had been created in 2010 under Mayor W. Merrill Taylor.
“The amount of available housing units in the (city of) Elwood seems to be sufficient, but the quality of those units may not be what buyers are looking for,” according to the plan.
However, a housing inventory in the plan assigned 91% of the homes with a ranking that indicates “a structure was well maintained and showed no signs of deterioration, aesthetic problems or structural damage of any kind” or “well maintained, but may have a minor maintenance issue like areas of paint peeling.”
Results from the plan’s survey of Elwood residents indicated that, on a scale of one to five — five being the lowest and one being the highest — a plurality of respondents, 42.5%, ranked housing at a 3 in “how well the city of Elwood provides.”
These projects, however, have lead to people throughout the state to consider moving to Elwood, Jones said.
“People no are realizing where we are, that the proximity to Noblesville or Indianapolis is not bad (and) this is an affordable city with good schools.”
A SUBDIVISION PROJECT
To attract developers to the area, Jones said the first step was revitalizing Cattails Golf Club and opening Elwood Golf Links in its place. Once nine holes were reconditioned, the area was a “more appealing offer for residential development,” according to the mayor.
“(We wanted to) make sure that there was something to offer people, and who doesn’t want to say they live on a golf course?” Jones said.
Many different organizations contributed to the creation of Elwood Golf Links — including the Elwood Redevelopment Commission, which is a city entity, and the Elwood Community Development Corporation, anonprofit organization not affiliated with the city. This conglomerate of organizations and individuals then set their sights on making the housing development a reality.
With the help of two companies, Elwood Real Equities and Bison Properties, a plan was created and ground was broken on Bison Ridge Estates in summer 2018.
While Elwood Golf Links and Bison Ridge Estates are not financially partnered, Jones likened their relationship to a marriage.
“You have to work hand-in-hand to make it work — one is no stronger than the other, they both have got to be equal contributors,” Jones said.
Before work on Bison Ridge began, the land was privately owned and being transformed into a space for single-family homes, Jones said. The vision that Bison Properties and Elwood Real Equities had, however, included a variety of housing types.
Once completed, property manager Dan Chapman said, a total of 135 units will be available for rent.
A clubhouse, fitness center and playground are also counted as “property features” along with Elwood Golf Links, according to a Bison Ridge Pricing sheet provided by Chapman.
While the units are in various stages of completion, Chapman said, people have already moved in to some, and he has a waiting list of more than 50 people for Bison Ridge.
“There is a host of things that have to be done. All the apartments will be done in the next couple of months, for sure. I’d say the senior building will be the last thing done, and that will probably be done by September,” Chapman said.
CONSTRUCTION ‘ON TRACK’
Construction has remained “pretty much on track,” Chapman explained, even though “we’ve had one of the wettest winters and springs.”
After a group of units has been completed and a certificate of occupancy from the city’s building inspector is secured, renters will be allowed to move in. After all 135 units have been completed and Bison Ridge has reached 80% occupancy, Chapman said, Phase 2 — to identify further housing needs in the area and begin building additional units accordingly — will begin.
Together, both phases make Bison Ridge Estates a $25 million project, Chapman said, adding that the venture is funded by Elwood Real Equities and not tax dollars.
The city was involved in one aspect of the development, moving utility lines to accommodate housing at Bison Ridge, Jones said. That cost was funded through tax increment finance dollars. TIF funds are tax dollars captured in a specific area for improvements in that area. An official of Elwood Real Equities did not return messages seeking comment for this article.
Elwood Real Equities’ “business model” enables the company to make Bison Ridge affordable, according to Chapman. The cheapest senior unit available, with rent and utilities included, is $814 a month, based on average utility bills. The second cheapest is a one-bedroom, one-bathroom traditional style apartment, which costs $854 monthly.
“The cost of utilities is really, extremely affordable,” he said. “We’re taking care of all the maintenance, and we’re taking care of all the grass and landscaping.”
‘ECONOMY IS BOOMING’
In 2018, of the 3,401 total households in Elwood, 55% had the bare minimum income to make ends meet but had no money to deal with unexpected expenses and little or no savings, according to the United Way of Madison County.
But in the past three years, Jones said, Elwood has had an influx of more than 1,000 non-seasonal jobs.
“Red Gold and ELSA were the lion’s share of jobs that were created in the city,” Jones said, referring to a tomato products company and an auto-parts maker. “The economy is booming, and we’re a very industrial-friendly city.”
As president of the redevelopment commission, community development corporation member and Elwood Chamber of Commerce board member, Tom Austin said Elwood Golf Links and Bison Ridge Estates are two of the best things to happen to Elwood in a long time.
“I think the overriding positive message of both projects is this is an attempt by the city of Elwood — the redevelopment commission, the ECDC (community development corporation), of course, the mayor’s administration — to move this community forward,” said Austin, formerly superintendent of Elwood Community Schools.
“When you have golf and you have housing and the quality of life goes up, those individuals that have young children and are looking for a place to live, to work and play (will come),” Austin said.
Follow Brooke Kemp on Twitter @ brookemkemp or contact her at 765640-4861