Very Early Adopter - Sunbeam Development invested early and often
A chance investment in the mid-1960s led Miami-based Sunbeam Television to become a major player in the development of Fishers.
Founder Sidney Ansin purchased 640 acres in Indianapolis in 1967, just north of Castleton to the Marion-Hamilton counties border, along Allisonville Road. As the area developed, Sunbeam Television launched Sunbeam Development Corporation, and turned its attention to the next big thing.
“That’s what got them into the Indianapolis market,” said Ken Kern, director of properties for Sunbeam Development Corporation. “The next obvious place after developing Castleton area was Fishers.”
Sunbeam found the seller of a choice location in the small town. The company initially purchased 400 acres from the Reynolds family east of I-69, from south of 106th Street to north of 116th Street.
USA Funds, at the time headquartered in Indianapolis, approached Sunbeam about the property. Then 300 more acres became available, and USA Funds (now Navient) was built and its headquarters moved to Fishers, in 1988. Forum Credit Union soon followed, and Sunbeam bought almost-400 more acres.
“The IKEA location has always been the gem of our properties,” Kern explained, of the high-profile property south of 116th Street. While Sunbeam retains ownership of most of their holdings, working with IKEA was a different story.
“The IKEAs of the world don’t want to lease, they want to buy. In this case, we thought that selling the site to them, the surrounding area would be more valuable,” Kern said.
Kern remembers how crowds packed the tiny former town hall, across 116th Street from the current municipal complex, in 1988 to hear how developers hoped to create something of value in the wide-open fields.
“We went to the town (Fishers) and said “We like this area, it looks like a good place. We think you want to grow,” Kern recalled. “The town council gave us flexible zoning package.”
Sunbeam thought it would be mutually beneficial to have options when it came to development, especially since their entry to the Fishers market came so early in what would become an explosion of growth.
“When it’s a small community like that, we’ve got this great land, what do we want to do with it?” Kern said. “It was just kind of a moving target; we’ll just have to see.”
Predicting the future wasn’t easy. “We thought corporate campuses were going to be a big thing, but it didn’t turn out that way for Fishers,” Kern explained. “Then it was flex spaces, such as call centers. That lasted a couple of years and then that dried up.”
“The most challenging part for the last 27 years was figuring out that market,” Kern said. Sunbeam has the luxury of waiting out the fluctuations of trends and the economy because they own their properties outright.
“Our vIsion for the property has changed over the years. We have no debt, so the slowdown of 2008 did not affect us. When times get tough, we wait it out,” Kern said.
As the market grew, the government involvement in development changed along with it. Last year, city officials told Sunbeam that their zoning designation would change, giving Fishers more control over how the property along I-69 could be developed.
“For years and years, we kind of dealt with that (flexible) zoning. WIth the change from town to city, our zoning is changing. The cIty wants more control,” Kern said.
However, “We think it’ll all work out just fine.”
Entertainment venue Top Golf is building on the north side of 116th Street, while Chicago-area restaurant Portillo’s is in planning stages. More restaurants are expected to follow.
By Jennifer A. Beikes