Central @ 29 Moving Forward

After nearly five decades of disinvestment in the area, a proposed housing project on a 5.5-acre site in Mapleton-Fall Creek is poised to reanimate Central Avenue between Fall Creek Parkway and 30th Street.

The Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation (MFCDC) is partnering with BWI LLC on Central @ 29, a two-phase development that is designed to reintroduce a mixture of uses in this commercial node.

“This is a severely distressed area,” MFCDC executive director Leigh Riley Evans told attendees at the Midtown Economic Council (MEC) public meeting in October. “Since 1969, when the Zaring Theatre building was demolished, there has been no new development.” She contended that the stark situation means the project qualifies for subsidy from the North Midtown Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Allocation Area. State law requires that TIF projects meet the “but for” test—in other words, without subsidy, the project could not move forward.

Duane Ingram, MFCDC’s chief operating officer, told the MEC that 114 affordable rental units with 140 parking spaces are proposed for the two four-story buildings slated for phase one of the “high-density project.” Ingram added that TIF funds would be used for ensuring alley access, storm water improvements, and utility relocation.

The proposal won unanimous approval from the MEC. To help move the project along, Councillor Joe Simpson, who represents the area, introduced an inducement resolution, Proposal 332, to the City-County Council.

Prop 332 would allow for the issuance of economic development revenue bonds in an amount not to exceed $12 million to provide a portion of the cost for acquisition, construction, and equipping of the project. The proposal was assigned to the Council’s Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee (MEDC).

At the committee’s Dec. 3 meeting, additional details of the project were presented. “We’re trying to create a walkable community with this Transit-Oriented Development,” Evans told the committee. She noted that Mapleton-Fall Creek had worked with the City to turn Central Avenue back to two-way traffic and collaborated with the City to complete the extension of the Fall Creek Trail.

She described how connectivity in the area is well served by IndyGo’s 30th Street crosstown buses and two Blue Indy electric car stations. While the latter brought grimaces to some councillors’ faces, they appeared more encouraged by the project’s proximity to the proposed Red Line rapid transit corridor on Meridian Street.

Councillors expressed support for the inclusion of affordable housing in the first phase. Evans also touted the Quality of Life plan that was adopted for the area in 2013, which identified the site as suitable for Rooftops and Retail—an initiative to restore mixed-use residential and retail to the neighborhood.

Asked by Councillor Robinson what elements made it possible for this development to proceed, BWI co-developer Gary Hobbs listed the area’s many advantages: Proximity to Ivy Tech, the Quality of Life Plan, the Reconnecting to Our Waterways program, and transit. “There were enough assets here and community leadership that made it OK for us to take the risk,” he said.

City-County Council chief financial officer Bart Brown made it clear to MEDC members that Prop 332 was not a formal request for TIF money. Krieg DeVault attorney Jim Crawford, who serves as counsel to the Indiana Economic Development Commission, confirmed that position.

“You’re being asked to adopt an inducement resolution which says that the plan has benefits for the City, so that the developers can move forward,” he said. If the plan was agreeable to the committee, and they voted to support it, Crawford said that would improve the developer’s chances of successfully obtaining tax-exempt bonds and tax credits. “These are not general obligation bonds and not paid for by the City,” Crawford said. “It would be on the developer.”

The MEDC voted its unanimous support and sent the proposal back to the full Council. Hobbs said after the meeting that his firm was ready to back the bond. “Community involvement in the Quality of Life Plan and the MFCDC leadership has reduced the risk,” he said.

Evans was pleased by the vote and said the development team has already reached out to Mayor-Elect Joe Hogsett’s transition team. “This project speaks directly to Hogsett’s “Vision for Indianapolis Neighborhoods” plan,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of the magazine.