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Fountain Square district shoring up its Corners: Group turns old buildings into residential/work spaces

August 14, 2006

If State and English avenues in the Fountain Square district were on a Monopoly board, they would probably be the ones available immediately after passing "Go."

But after the Southeast Neighborhood Development Inc. is finished there, the intersection will move several spaces closer to Park Place.

The not-for-profit is investing $1 million to renovate three dilapidated buildings it bought to convert them to residential/work spaces as part of its Fountain Square Corners development.

A local photographer who will live in an upstairs apartment and operate his studio on the ground floor already has agreed to purchase the one completed structure at the southwest corner. He plans to move in by the end of October.

The other two properties are in the beginning stages of lengthy refurbishments. Even so, the interest they're generating is proof to SEND President Mark Stewart that the impoverished area is poised for a turnaround.

"We try to acquire key structures at key intersections, in anticipation that we will act as a catalyst for private development," he said. "The Corners is part of that strategy."

Another piece of the Corners project involves a warehouse that formerly housed the Roger Popp Inc. janitorial supplies company at Shelby Street and Fletcher Avenue. SEND is investing $2.5 million to convert the space into 15 condo units.

The 23-year-old organization whose mission is to revitalize the southeast-side neighborhood has redeveloped 135 houses and 130 rental units as well as a number of commercial properties. They include the Wheeler Arts Community building; the Charter Center, which houses two schools; and a Marion County Library branch. SEND has an annual budget of $1.6 million.

Making a comeback

Fountain Square is bordered by Washington Street on the north, Madison Avenue on the west, Raymond Street on the south, and Keystone Avenue on the east.

The neglected neighborhood suffered from suburban flight and the construction of Interstate 65, which worked as a barrier to cut it off from downtown, during the 1960s. But an influx of artistic residents and attractions in recent years is helping to draw new development.

The renamed Claus' German Sausage and Meat Market, for instance, will break ground later this month on a building it will construct at Shelby and Naomi streets. Owner Claus Muth is moving the business because Eli Lilly and Co. holds an option on its current property on South Street and it could choose to build there.

The Corners project is not the largest revitalization effort SEND has undertaken-that designation falls to the $5 million Charter Center-but it may be one of the more intriguing.

Mixed-use developments in which business owners can live and work in the same building are becoming a trendy way to breathe new life into decaying urban locales. In Indianapolis, the only other similar undertaking is occurring at Fall Creek Place, said Andy Fraizer, the city's director of community development.

Locally based Mansur Real Estate Services is nearing completion on the first of two buildings known as Douglass Pointe Lofts: a nine-unit condominium development at 25th and Delaware streets. Each of the units will include as much as 1,000 square feet of ground-floor office space. Four of the five units in the first building have been sold and will house construction and title companies, and a graphic designer and architect. Construction on the second building will commence next month.

Three blocks east at the former Tim and Avi's salvage yard location, Teagen Investments III LLC is starting on a four-story mixed-use development that could be finished by spring.

"It gives the business owner a direct stake in the neighborhood as a resident," Fraizer said. "At the same time, it gives the business owner an opportunity to be closer to their business."

The concept harkens back to yesteryear when neighborhood storefronts dotted the city landscape. In fact, at least one of the two empty buildings that formerly were taverns at State and English contained an upstairs apartment.

Stewart said he encountered a woman one day at the property on the northeast corner of the intersection who had come by to take a look at the building where she grew up. She told Stewart her father operated a bar there during the 1950s and '60s.

Many corners in Indianapolis have buildings originally built as taverns, said Bill Taft, program director for the Indianapolis office of the New York-based Local Initiatives Support Coalition. It is the largest community-development organization in the nation.

"Often, they're some of the more visible and architecturally interesting [properties] in the neighborhood," he said. "The SEND project is a creative way of addressing them and repositioning the real estate to be used by self-employed people."

The local LISC office loaned SEND $740,000 to finance construction costs for the three buildings, Taft said. About $60,000 in repair work has been done so far to the two structures north of English Avenue that won't be ready for purchase until next year, Stewart said.

SEND previously purchased three vacant homes in the area as well. Two of those since have been remodeled and sold.

Condo project

Axis Architecture + Interiors is designing the condominium conversion at the Roger Popp building at the intersection of Shelby and Fletcher. The locally based architect and interior designer is attempting to create an industrial loft feel that will appeal to young professionals or first-time buyers, Axis owner Drew White said.

The two-bedroom units will range from 1,000 to 1,300 square feet and will be priced in the mid-$100,000s.

SEND also owns a 2,000-square-foot vacant building nearby; a decision about its use will be made in the next few weeks, Stewart said. And construction will begin soon on professional office space at a vacant lot across the street that SEND owns as well. Attorneys and accountants are among those interested in the space so far, Stewart said.

An influx of professionals certainly would help in broadening the appeal of the bohemian neighborhood, Stewart said.

"My favorite thing about Fountain Square is that it is so unique," said Stewart, who arrived at SEND from Bloomington two years ago. "It's got a lot of challenges, but it's got a lot of character."
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