- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A private developer says his attempts to work with the state on creating an $80 million hotel-restaurant project near the new east end bridge over the Ohio River have received little response.

Michael Fulkerson said he has spent thousands of dollars drafting plans for the 22-acre property near Utica. Those plans call for two hotels, eight restaurants and a park-like area with a shelter that would divert attention from a planned Indiana Department of Transportation operations and maintenance facility that will serve the bridge.

“What I was envisioning was, what best serves these people over here?” he said.

However, Indiana Finance Authority attorney Jay Church told the News and Tribune for a story Monday (https://bit.ly/1RBad2e ) that any private development plans must wait until completion of the bridge and the INDOT facility. The Finance Authority owns the property and will continue to do so for the next 35 years.

Local officials are eager to move the INDOT facility away from traffic that will be using the bridge.

The facility “is detrimental to the whole area, I think,” Utica Town Board President Henry Dorman said. Dorman said his community of about 800 people has a vested interest in the commercial development. “It would be really our lifeline for development and future growth. If this doesn’t materialize, then Utica’s going to stay stagnant.”

Local officials with Jeffersonville, Clark County and the River Ridge Commerce Center have pressed the state for close to three years on the placement of the INDOT facility. River Ridge even offered the state its own property.

The Clark County Plan Commission has asked INDOT to move the facility so that it would be less visible to commuters. Modified plans move the facility back about 180 feet from a road serving the bridge, but Fulkerson’s plans would place the facility in a lower area that would make it even less visible to commuters, he said.

Fulkerson said he is willing to modify his plans to suit the location of the INDOT facility, but he’s concerned its location will discourage tenants if it’s is in the middle of the property.

“Who wants to be next to the pile of salt?” he said.

Fulkerson, who helped develop the Gateway project in downtown Jeffersonville that features restaurants and a hotel within sight of Interstate 65, said parties involved with the INDOT facility have not seriously considered his development proposal, but he doesn’t know why.

“That’s a mystery,” he said.

Church, however, said the state is bound legally to bridge contractor WVB East End Partners.

“Currently, the state has contractual obligations with WVB East End Partners, LLC., to construct the bridge and the operations and maintenance facility, and we must legally adhere to the existing agreement,” he stated. “Additionally, the state must give careful consideration to how it uses public assets.”

He said the Finance Authority appreciates Fulkerson’s interest in the property.

“If there is excess land available at the end of the project, the state would certainly be interested in working with Mr. Fulkerson or another buyer,” Church said.

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