What a Year!

Tarkington Park upgrades were one of several greenspace improvements in the district in 2017.

by Michael McKillip

While every community in Indy is unique and has a distinctive set of assets, Midtown is a singular collection of neighborhoods and institutions of art, culture, and learning. These assets help Indianapolis tremendously, attracting more than 3 million visitors a year, featuring one of the highest tax bases in all of Marion County, and including some of the best schools in the entire city.

If any place is positioned to compete for residents to live in Marion County, it’s Midtown. It’s not about us for our own sake; it’s us for the City. The stronger our neighborhoods are, the more employment we can offer, the more visitors we attract, the more businesses that open, the more greenspaces we offer, the stronger Marion County is.

The City of Indianapolis has acknowledged that over the last eight years, and in 2017, the district benefited from continued public investment.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Midtown is seeing lots of quality of life improvements, from the simplest to the most catalytic infrastructure investments—including parks, trails, greenways, handicap ramps, or traffic signals to help people cross the street.

Looking southwest as construction crews prepare to reopen Capitol Avenue Bridge. Aerial photo courtesy DPW. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

After decades of deferred maintenance, the bridges across Fall Creek are receiving investment from the City. The Capitol Avenue bridge opened in November. The Central Avenue bridge eroded in January 2017, which resulted in an accelerated timetable for its long-scheduled repairs. Meanwhile, the College Avenue bridge is slated for repaving in 2018. While bridge closures can result in chaos for drivers going to or from Midtown, it’s worth the pain because we’re getting infrastructure that will last us another hundred years.

Construction work on the Spider in Mapleton-Fall Creek concluded in 2017 and transformed a terrible six-way intersection into a sensible four-way intersection at Fall Creek Parkway and Delaware Street.

Beyond that, homeowners with more pavement on their properties than others have paid significant increases in sewer assessments to enable the City to reinvest those dollars in stormwater upgrades.

Two of the biggest infrastructure challenges facing our district are 38th Street and the floodwall completion. Both fundamentally impact the future stability of our neighborhoods and of home values throughout Midtown. The floodwall has been 20 years in the making; it’s only a matter of time before the planned final phase of that project is finished. However, the final alignment of the project does not protect Rocky Ripple or the grounds of Butler University. The funds to remedy this remain an outstanding critical issue for the whole community—one we cannot ignore.

Traffic on 38th Street continues to be dangerous. We should stop calling it 38th Street and start calling it I-38! It’s not a street, it’s a highway: seven lanes and 46,000 cars daily. Our communities are being threatened by this traffic. It’s imperative to leverage dedicated lanes for multiple bus rapid transit vehicles on that corridor and to establish safe ways for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross 38th Street and to travel along it all the way to the IMA at Newfields. If that doesn’t happen, Midtown will remain a community divided by 38th Street, and that’s not acceptable to us or to any of our partners.

New curbs and sidewalks and repaved streets improve neighborhood quality of life.

As transit construction comes up and down Meridian Street and College Avenue and across 38th Street, you’ll see major infrastructure improvements, including curbs, sidewalks, crosswalks, and drainage.

After years of advocacy for a new stoplight at 40th and Meridian, one is slated for installation in Spring 2018. This may not be exciting to all the commuters who use Meridian Street, but this is Midtown’s most historic and beloved corridor. The lanes are a little narrow and neighbors really would appreciate it if drivers would slow down!

GREENSPACE

In 2017 we saw greenspace and/or major public amenities developed from one end of Midtown to the other. Greenspace is the glue that holds our community together. People want to spend time in public spaces, walk to parks, and hang out with their neighbors. Parks are “third places”—not home and not the office—that attract and engage people. As a city, we’re evolving into a very social community; Midtown now offers some of the premier third places in all of Marion County, including waterfront bistros and destination urban parks.

Infrastructure improvements to the Spider included creation of the Delaware Gateway, a greenspace enhanced by public art and landscaping. The project was spurred by community recommendations during the creation of the Destination Fall Creek initiative.

Tarkington Park had its first full season of operation in 2017. Dozens of partners helped make the July 29 grand opening celebration a success. It was a demonstration of what Tarkington Park could be like every day if the community and City could partner to help elevate its level of service and programming. Construction on the performance shelter will wrap up in time for spring, and community partners are excited about the opportunity to help the City program it and find an operator for the café.

After a decade of discussion, the Canal Esplanade in Broad Ripple was completed in 2017. At the June groundbreaking, crowds lined both sides of the waterway to watch the BRVA’s annual duck race in a festive, family-friendly atmosphere.

The coming year holds promise for Midtown greenspace. In the universe of good ideas that we initially resist, the Monon Trail is sort of the wise elder of great third places and exemplifies the importance of greenspace, public space, and connectivity. Thirty years ago, the community questioned whether a Monon Trail would be a good idea. Now it’s so popular that we have to widen it, which the City’s Department of Public Works is scheduled to undertake in 2018.

Indy Parks has hired a consultant to lead the Broad Ripple Park master planning effort in 2018. Don’t underestimate a park master plan. Five years ago the upgraded Tarkington Park was just a plan; now it’s real. Broad Ripple Park is a pivotal place that ties together many aspirations for Broad Ripple Avenue, such as the future of Broad Ripple High School and the Riverwalk that has long been idealized as the best way to connect people from the park to the Monon. The right park master plan can be a game-changer because it will look at the park and how it connects to all those pieces. This is the beginning of new opportunity for Broad Ripple if the park can become the anchor for the Village.

Demolition of antiquated commercial building prepares the way for new mixed-use office, retail and residential project in Broad Ripple.

DEVELOPMENT

It’s taken a long time to overcome the inertia of disinvestment in Midtown, but in 2017 the first wave of redevelopment rolled in.

Remember 2015, when four Double Eight stores closed? In 2018 there will be no more vacant Double Eights because all of those stores will be in new hands: leased, occupied, and/or repurposed.

With a dozen projects throughout the district in various phases of development, we’re seeing a very steady kind of reinvestment building momentum that could continue through 2022.

You can really credit the Monon Trail for at least three major projects in Broad Ripple this year and another within walking distance at College Avenue and Kessler Boulevard. Also, the revitalization of the old Reese warehouses and other properties along the former railway has turned into a thriving commercial node along 54th Street.

There’s some great work going on at 46th Street and College Avenue, driven by the redevelopment of a historic former grocery store into a restaurant. The building that housed Big Al’s superstore across the street is also under new ownership and slated for renovation. Greek’s Pizzeria and Taproom complements Open Society at the 49th and College commercial node, with an urban infill development proposed for the remediated brownfield that once housed a dry cleaner.

Commercial development is enhanced by residential housing construction. The greatest threat to single-family residential housing in our community is the increasing unaffordability of housing across Midtown. In response, you see a deliberate effort to provide mixed-income housing types from the Crown Hill neighborhood all the way through Meridian-Kessler and into Broad Ripple. At the height of the recession 10 years ago, that is something we never could have imagined.

While the signs of investment are positive, we have to remain cautious about what that new investment looks like. If we’ve lasted 100 years as a district and we’re planning to last another 100, we have to manage the context of investment and insure that what is built supports our historic neighborhoods and doesn’t fundamentally alter them.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Public safety has made remarkable strides in 2017. North District Commander Josh Barker has done a phenomenal job of stepping in to fill the vacancy created by Commander Christopher Bailey’s promotion. Broad Ripple is safer than ever. We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in violent crime in both southern Butler-Tarkington and Crown Hill.

There are a lot of partners responsible for that effort along with IMPD. The Ten Point Coalition, the WADE organization, and the MLK Community Center have provided programs and outreach. While violent crime in Marion County as a whole has increased, every place Midtown has seen crime go down is where the community has joined with IMPD and the City to fight it. The City has taken a comprehensive approach to understand the causes and not just the symptoms of crime. Jobs, food, health care, and education are necessary; when those are available, as they have been in Butler-Tarkington and Crown Hill, we’ve seen crime go down. If we can see that achievement in some of the areas that have had the highest crime in Marion County for the last decade, we can see it everywhere. But the City can’t do it alone; we all have to do our part. Turn your porch light on and be a good neighbor.

We have to be smart and proactive. Get to know your neighbors and engage in your community. Neighborhood associations are the backbone of every issue—whether the concern is trash, streets, education, or public safety. Midtown is fortunate to have so many strong and active neighborhood associations. They all deserve your support and involvement.

NEXT STEPS

After a decade of planning, we’re transitioning from visioning to focus. There is never going to be enough money to meet all of Midtown’s infrastructure needs. So when we think about the future, it moves back to the basics: partnering with the City to insure delivery of services in our district.

Midtown’s business community has struggled over the years, and some small businesses will be affected by construction of the Red Line in 2018. We really need to reinforce and support the Midtown Loves Local initiative, remind folks of the benefits of shopping at local businesses, and encourage local businesses to invest back in the neighborhoods that support them.

We’ve made progress in 2017 but have more to do to improve how we work together in 2018 so that all of Midtown is served in a healthy and positive way.

Michael McKillip is the executive director of Midtown Indianapolis Inc. midtownindy.org

A version of this article appears in the December 17/January 18 issue of the magazine.

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