Zionsville: Combining rapid growth with small-town charm
Zionsville’s brick-lined downtown and quaint neighborhood streets paint a picture of idyllic small-town America, but never more so than in December when families gather to listen to Dickens holiday carolers, watch the Christmas tree lighting ceremony or enjoy breakfast with Santa during the town’s Christmas in the Village celebration.
The annual event expanded from a single afternoon in the 1970s to what is now a month-long celebration for the small Indiana community, starting with a parade and tree lighting ceremony the weekend after Thanksgiving and events continuing through the new year.
“We’re bringing in residents who might not otherwise come by, as well as outside visitors, to come and see how wonderful it is,” says Dusky Loebel, who chairs the Christmas in the Village committee for the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce.
Adding to the holiday ambiance is Cory Owens, owner of highly rated Second Nature Landscapes on Deandra Drive. He devotes most of his effort throughout the year to outdoor landscapes, but starting in October pivots much of his time toward installing holiday decorations.
Owens custom designs each setup, stores them in a large warehouse during the year, and pulls them out in October and November to install on homes throughout Zionsville. Currently, he says he services about 120 annual clients, with more added each year. While most of his work involves residential homes, Owens says he also lights up a number of Village stores with holiday cheer.
“We help the store owners brighten their shops and draw a little more attention to what they’ve got going on, lead some extra eyes to take a look at what they’re doing,” he says. “It’s really rewarding to contribute to bringing a little spirit to Main Street.”
A small town with a growing reputation
With rising property values, top-notch schools and a reputation for safety, Zionsville has established itself as one of the most attractive and affluent regions in Central Indiana. It wasn’t always that way.
Alan Winters has lived here his whole life and established highly rated Control Tech Heating & Air Conditioning on Parkway Drive in 1982. He says his wife required some convincing to move here.
“She was from Indianapolis, and to her, Zionsville was some podunk place way out in the country,” Winters says. “Now I don’t think I could pry her away!”
Located just eight miles northwest of Indianapolis, it’s close to big-city amenities but still far enough away to offer a sense of tranquility.
Angie’s List member Edwin Espey purchased 12 acres of Zionsville land with a log cabin and A-frame house in 2005. He retired last year, and moved into the property with his wife and daughter. He paid highly rated Celebrity Custom Homes in Fishers, Indiana, $100,000 to upgrade the cabin into a luxurious home and the A-frame into a personal retreat.
“They weren’t looking so good when I bought them, but now anybody that comes here says it’s the coolest place they’ve ever seen,” Espey says.
He chose the location due to its proximity to his favorite golf course, Wolf Run Golf Club, where he plays a round daily. “I’ve got a golf cart in my garage, and I’m 37 seconds away from the first tee,” he notes.
Despite growth, Zionsville retains small-town charm
The air of relaxation combined with easy access to amenities plays a large role in the town’s cultural scene.
Zionsville’s crown jewel, the brick-lined downtown Village, serves as a social and business hub, with spokes reaching out to greenways, parks and schools. The six square blocks host 160 different businesses, most of them small, locally owned and serving specified niches.
A brief stroll down Main Street brings the visitor past an upscale toy store, jeweler’s shop, clock repair shop, art sanctuary, flower shop and yarn shop, among many others, all a moment’s walk from one another.
The businesses joined together to create this aesthetic, says Julie Johns-Cole, executive director of the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re very protective about the characteristics of the historic downtown, so while we embrace growth and new development, we want to recognize the heritage of Zionsville,” Johns-Cole says. “We just conducted a consumer survey, and it resonated very well that people wanted locally owned businesses versus larger franchises.”
Mark Hilton served as manager for Rug Gallery Flooring in the heart of the Village for 11 years, owned it for another 22 years, and sold it this year, but stayed on as project manager.
“I’ve been in this shop since we were sweeping the floors to open it in 1982,” he says. “The Village has an ever-changing cast of characters, but it’s still the same basic space it always was. However, now there’s a much more diverse scenario of businesses.”
Forging a public and private partnership
A place like Zionsville doesn’t materialize by accident.
Early residents prized culture and the arts, and the current Zionsvillians maintain their historical authenticity by carefully curating the town’s cultural events and business environment.
“All of the activity you see in the Village, the upkeep of the buildings and homes, are steps for preservation undertaken by the residents and business owners themselves,” says Wayne DeLong, the town’s director of planning and economic development. “The town does get involved and assists where it’s needed, but the community itself is very organic.”
Other local organizations such as the Lion’s Club add to the community’s flavor by maintaining Lion’s Park — the site of the town’s Easter Egg Hunt, Fourth of July celebration, Sunday concert series, and other events — completely with private funds.
“We can’t say enough good things about the Lion’s Club,” Johns-Cole says. “It really does come down to really proactive residents. They take care in planning for new development while seeing the need for commercial growth.
Winters, a longtime volunteer with the Lion’s Club, says the town and local businesses forged a thriving public and private partnership. “The business community has really wrapped itself around the town,” he says.
Balancing expansion and aesthetic
Zionsville experienced tremendous growth in just the past few years.
The population rose from 5,281 in 1990 to 14,160 in 2010, according to U.S. Census records, and Census estimates place current population at 25,115.
Though some of the growth comes from the city’s 2010 merger with Eagle and Union townships, the need to balance a local-business feel with a growing population presents new challenges.
DeLong says the town plans to more evenly distribute its tax burden between residents and businesses. Currently, he says, about 92 percent of Zionsville’s tax base is residential and 8 percent business. Current initiatives aim to bring that closer to 80/20 in the next several years.
One of the biggest plans, already underway, established a new development a short distance southeast of the Village. Creekside Corporate Park has already landed Hat World’s corporate headquarters, currently under construction, and DeLong hopes to attract more businesses to the park.
“Bringing in that kind of business to ground where nothing sat for 30 years will have a dramatic impact on our tax reliance,” DeLong says.
Coping with growing pains
Such growth comes with certain difficulties.
Zionsville denied Wal-Mart’s request to build a store on Michigan Road in 2008, in accordance with the town’s big-box ordinance, and the company sued. The lawsuit remains pending in Hamilton County, according to court records.
A proposed plan to merge Zionsville with Perry Township and reorganize local government caused considerable concern in Whitestown, where officials filed suit to prevent the plan. That case also remains in litigation, DeLong says.
Winters notes that the delicate balance between growth and small-town charm remains an ever-present issue in Zionsville.
“We have a lot of specialty, boutique shops, and sometimes they have a bit of a tough time competing with the growth that’s being brought toward us,” he says.
Even in the face of rapid growth and inevitable change, residents and business owners say the town retains the same spirit that has carried it through decades of expansion.
“Within all that, it’s still Zionsville,” Hilton says. “It’s like the difference between going into a huge vaulted family room or spending time in a cozy den. We’re a cozy den.”