Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Attractions and Cultural Trail

Payne paved way for Cultural Trail project

November 5, 2007

To understand the uniqueness of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, not just to Indiana but to the country, it might be helpful to consider an outsider's opinion:

"It's an idea that is so radical as far as civic transportation goes that it sounds a little crazy," wrote travel writer Robert Sullivan in the November 2006 issue of dwell, a San Francisco-based modern living magazine.

If the idea of building a $50 million, 7-1/2-mile pedestrian and biking trail through the streets of downtown Indianapolis is indeed crazy, Brian Payne might be considered the trail's mad scientist.

His leadership, persistence and passion for the project are the key reasons the first leg of the trail is due to open this month along Alabama Street, said some of the many people Payne has enlisted for support in the monumental undertaking.

They are also the reasons Payne, president of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation, is this year's winner of IBJ's Michael Carroll Award, given annually to a man or woman who embodies the former deputy mayor's determination, devotion, humility and dedication to the community.

In heading the cause for the Cultural Trail, Payne, 48, has been its chief cheerleader, fund-raiser and tour guide.

Although he wasn't a bicyclist when he came up with the idea in 2001, Payne since has given innumerable bike tours of the trail's planned path, urging officials, potential donors and other interested parties to climb on a bike. Just in case they balk, however, Payne also has a backup plan--two Segways stashed in his office.

Payne, a California native who moved here in 1993, said he views the Cultural Trail not only as his biggest and most creative professional undertaking, but also as a lasting contribution to his adopted hometown. By creating a public space like the trail, he said, people have more incentive to live, work and play downtown, and to frequent its cultural attractions and businesses.

"I believe [the Cultural Trail] is going to transform the way people think about Indianapolis, both those who live here and those who visit," Payne said. "The rest of the country is going to say, 'Wow, what the heck is going on in Indianapolis?'"

Blissful ignorance

For his part, Payne admits to some degree of ignorance of the Cultural Trail's chances more than six years ago when he began shopping the idea of a trail to link Indianapolis' downtown neighborhoods.

"I thought it sounded really easy--to just go build a trail," Payne said. "I've been told many times since that it's the most complex city construction project there's ever been."

Early on, when Payne was telling everyone who would listen about the idea, he said he also probably mistook politeness of his listeners for enthusiasm, a view confirmed by several of those who took part in the conversations.

"I, as any reasonable person would have, dismissed the idea as interesting, but unfeasible," said Brian Sullivan, executive vice president of Shiel Sexton Co. Inc.

Sullivan is now one of a legion of corporate supporters who have jumped onto the Cultural Trail bandwagon, lured by the potential of the trail not only as a unique amenity for residents and visitors, but also as a way to boost Indianapolis' reputation across the country and beyond. Sullivan said he watched as Payne doggedly built momentum for the trail, one person at a time.

"It was a remarkable thing to witness," he said.

In little more than six years, the Cultural Trail has progressed from a "crazy" idea to a reality that kicked off construction in April steps away from Payne's office on North Alabama Street. Of the $50 million needed for the trail, nearly $40.4 million has been raised from private individuals, foundations and federal transportation funds. In homage to its largest donors, of $15 million, the trail's official name is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick.

The earliest funds came from those Payne calls the trail's "venture capitalists": the Lumina Foundation, the Efroymson Family Fund, philanthropist Myrta Pulliam and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, who chipped in the first few million to conduct feasibility studies and other pre-design needs before the Cultural Trail was anything but a sure bet.

One of those early funders, Lori Efroymson-Aguilera, recalled visualizing the trail's potential on one of Payne's guided bike tours--which, she said, she reluctantly agreed to.

"He had to prod me a little," she said. "But I realized how really great an idea it was. ... We went past all the major pieces of downtown. The trail capitalizes on what's already there."

Leveraging contacts made at CICF and at his previous job as managing director of Indiana Repertory Theatre, Payne also enlisted corporate heavyweights such as Eli Lilly and Co. President John Lechleiter and LDI Ltd. Chairman Andre Lacy to spread the Cultural Trail gospel in the city's business community.

In the meantime, Payne led the process of winning the city's approval to build the trail. Although city officials were supportive of the idea, they had to be convinced the trail's benefits would outweigh the construction, engineering and traffic challenges, a process that took three years of public meetings and feasibility studies.

Once city approval came, the local office of Muncie-based Rundell Ernstberger Associates LLC was selected in early 2006 as lead designer of the project, and the Cultural Trail shifted into high gear.

In April, less than a year after initial designs were unveiled, construction began. From the beginning, said Rundell Ernstberger principal Kevin Osburn, Payne and city leaders pushed to get the first section of the trail started as soon as possible, to serve as something of a "model home" for future legs.

The accelerated time line was possible in large part because of the project's widespread support, Osburn said, crediting Payne's contagious enthusiasm.

"I've never been involved in a project that has had such an overwhelmingly positive response, not just from the general public, but from the people who are directly involved," Osburn said. "I think a large part of that is because of the planning work that went into this beforehand. Everyone's made every effort to explain what the project is about. It's never been a mystery, and when people ask a question, they always get an answer."

Part of the job

While the first pavers are falling into place, Payne and the rest of the trail's management team are focusing on raising the remaining $9.6 million and planning the path and design of the trail's future four phases.

It's a job Payne works in around the other obligations of overseeing CICF and its $650 million in assets. Staff has taken over some of his responsibilities, and Payne said he has had to resign from some boards and committees he formerly served on.

He credits CICF's board for its support in allowing him to devote so much time to the Cultural Trail, the centerpiece of CICF's Inspiring Places initiative, which focuses on fostering development of public spaces, including parks and other green space.

So far, Payne hasn't neglected other aspects of the foundation, said Myrta Pulliam, an early Cultural Trail donor who later joined the CICF board. She said she and other directors are sensitive to that possibility, but also realize the benefits of having Payne lead such a high-profile effort.

"It's made CICF's profile higher," Pulliam said.

That, in turn, creates the potential for more donors to create philanthropic funds or support CICF's Inspiring Places and Family Success initiatives, she said.

Payne said he looks forward to delving into other community-minded projects when the Cultural Trail is closer to being wrapped up. Although he doesn't yet know what's next, he said he sees a plethora of opportunities.

"I think [the Cultural Trail] will be a defining part of my career," Payne said. "It's definitely a significant, incredibly enjoyable part. But I'm not looking for it to be the end of my career."

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