On the job: Deputy Mayor Steve Cooke identifies major projects for the long-term benefit of the city

After more than five months on the job, Deputy Mayor Steve Cook talks future city projects. (Submitted photo)

After more than five months on the job, Deputy Mayor Steve Cook talks future city projects. (Submitted photo)

By Sadie Hunter

 

After more than five months on the job, Deputy Mayor Steve Cooke is looking ahead to the projects he said will take the City of Noblesville to the next level.

Hired this spring, Cooke replaced Christy Langley, who left unexpectedly after becoming deputy mayor Jan. 1 when former Deputy Mayor Mike Hendricks was hired as the city’s financial controller.

Cooke’s first day was April 4.

“(The mayor and I) talked a little bit about my background in what I had done in communications and public affairs, and that was exactly what they wanted to do with the role,” Cooke said. “They felt like somebody maybe from the outside would be a good addition to the team, to take the work that they’ve been doing for years and kind of bring a different focus or attention to it.”

Cooke said he first met Mayor John Ditslear in 2012 when they worked together on mass transit and continued to work through the years on various projects. At that time, he worked for Bose Public Affairs group, where he began in 2011.

“The job is definitely focused on helping the mayor manage day-to-day operations. So working with all the different department directors, obviously they’re doing an awesome job, but sometimes they might need a creative solution if they encounter a (problem) that I can help solve,” Cooke said. “So I feel like even in (five) months, there have been times I’ve been able to help bring that outside perspective in … really to achieve the vision (the mayor has) been working toward all these years he’s been in office.”

Settled in his role, Cooke said there are three projects that tie together that he’s focused on.

“There are a lot (of projects) I’m passionate about,” he said. “As a resident and serving the city I love, I think the three major projects I’ll be focused on are State Route 37, east/west corridors and downtown infill. Bringing in my strategic communications background, how can that help take some of these projects forward? We’ve been talking about these projects for many years, how do we get them done now?”

Redevelopment of Ind. 37 through Noblesville

“So we know the southern section is already funded, but north of 146th Street we need to create opportunities for that free-flow traffic with roundabout-style interchanges, not only to help north/south traffic, but this is also going to help the east/west connectivity,” he said. “So if you look at east of (Ind.) 37, (we’re) trying to make that more accessible, and sooner or later, that traffic is going to get so bad that people aren’t going to want to come to (Ind.) 37. It isn’t just about commuters going south, its also about traffic here in Noblesville.”

Currently, only the south portion of the overall Ind. 37 project in Fishers is funded. On Dec. 10, 2015, the Indiana Governor’s Office stepped in, pledging $100 million to help complete the five intersections in Fishers – 126th, 131st, 135th, 141st and 146th Streets – by July 2018. Both the City of Fishers and Hamilton County contributed $12 million for the first phase.

The second phase, which lays within the City of Noblesville with four intersections at Greenfield Avenue, Town and Country Boulevard, Pleasant Street and Ind. 38/32, has financial commitments from the City of Fishers ($4.5 million), Hamilton County ($4.5 million) and itself ($16.5 million), totaling $25.5 million. The City of Noblesville has not secured any state funding for the second phase.

“We have a lot of tough decisions to make as far as the financing,” Cooke said. “We’ve committed a certain dollar amount. How many interchanges can we get for that? So we’re really looking to have more conversations with the county and the state.”

An improved east/west corridor

“Obviously, anybody who drives through (Ind.) 32/38 realizes that we need to have a reliever through the downtown area, so if you look at Hague Road, all the way to (Ind.) 37, we have to balance with where’s the best place to put that,” Cooke said. “There have been a lot of studies on that. So that’s been part of my job, reading through the 10 to 15 years worth of studies that have been done and why Pleasant Street is the ideal location to be able to take some traffic off of (Ind.) 32/38 and maybe off of Logan (Street), but obviously the downtown is still the heart of our community. We think this east/west corridor will make it event better, because this is going to open up downtown for downtown infill.”

Currently, there is no specific timeframe for Pleasant Street or any other potential east/west corridor plans to be completed.

“A lot of it depends on our talks around (Ind.) 37, because Pleasant Street becomes the first interchange that we potentially do on the northern section, then perhaps we start east on Pleasant Street and work our way towards downtown and then at the river crossing,” he said. “Also, we need to talk to the county as far as confirming their investment on the bridge. I know they want to see that happen as well.”

“If you look at a map, you cannot go straight across on Pleasant Street. It would go right through the wastewater plant, and we’re not going to rebuild millions of dollars of wastewater, so we get to kind of be (selective),” City of Noblesville Public Affairs Manager Robert Herrington said. “Our engineering department is looking at making sure it’s wide enough now, so it’s not like it’s two lanes. They’re looking at three-lane options, four-lane options so that way we don’t build it and then in 10 years, because of growth, we have to do something else. We want to do it right the first time.”

Downtown infill and expanding it west

Through a façade grant program and other various forms of investing, the City of Noblesville is continuing its efforts to enhance its downtown, from finding a solution to tricky parking to bringing in new diverse businesses to incentivizing liquor licenses to changing the area into a nighttime destination as well as a day-time destination.

“As our city grows, the downtown is going to continue to be the heart of our community,” Cooke said. “A lot is happening to expand the downtown footprint (west) across the river, BlueSky headquarters, Riverview Health expansion, Federal Hill Commons. So with those projects and having more traffic, and with the idea of trying to create more of a nighttime culture downtown and bring more residents downtown with apartments and retail, and also with a long-term strategy for parking, they all combine to strengthen the downtown.”

Mayor John Ditslear and Deputy Mayor Steve Cook chat in the mayor’s office. (Submitted photo)

Mayor John Ditslear and Deputy Mayor Steve Cook chat in the mayor’s office. (Submitted photo)

MEET STEVE COOK

Hometown: Flint, Mich.

Residence: Noblesville, moved here in 2001 from Lafayette.

Family: Wife Marnie, daughters Jillian and Shelby.

Hobbies: Biking, fishing, attending Noblesville community events.

Education: BA in telecommunications and business from Michigan State University; MA in public relations management from IUPUI.

Career: Corporate communications production specialist at Cummins, September 2004 to January 2008; communication specialist for the Indiana Dept. of Revenue, January 2008 to May 2009; language and technical reviewer at Briljent, May 2009 to April 2011; public relations manager (April 2011 to May 2012), public relations director (May 2012 to February 2014) and vice president (February 2014 to March 2016) at Bose Public Affairs Group; deputy mayor for the City of Noblesville, April 2016 to present.

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