Small Business and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Development plans percolating in five urban corridors: East 10th Street, Fountain Square lead FOCUS pack

February 20, 2006

DataSmith Technologies owner James Smith started looking almost two years ago for a building to house his business, his home and possibly a revenue-generating tenant.

What he ended up with was a dilapidated former bar on a struggling section of East 10th Street that had become a haven for vagrants.

Smith took a chance on the building at 2032 E. 10th St., most recently home to Mustang Sally's tavern, largely because of the involvement of the East 10th Street Civic Association. That organization is leading efforts to revitalize the corridor through a program called Fostering Commercial Urban Strategies, supported by the city and the Indianapolis office of the Local Initiatives Support Corp.

Launched locally in 2004, the FOCUS program provides grants and technical support to organizers in five inner-city corridors who are hoping to bring viable small businesses back to their neighborhoods. In addition to East 10th Street, targeted corridors include Fountain Square, West Washington Street, 16th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. A sixth corridor is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

East 10th Street is one of the first corridors to show tangible results-such as Smith's building-from its FOCUS efforts. The building, renamed the Mayfair after the original bar that occupied it, has been gutted and is undergoing reconstruction. Smith hopes to move DataSmith in by the end of this year. A coffee shop, the Mayfair Coffee Co., is slated to open on the first floor by the end of 2007.

"There were a lot of reasons why a lot of businesses would not even think about getting this building," Smith said.

First was the ownership. The Mayfair had been owned by a Canadian company that had taken little interest in the building. Smith, with the civic association's help, eventually purchased it through a tax sale.

Then there was the fact that the building was recommended for demolition, not because of its condition so much as because it had become a haven for vagrants and unseemly activity. Even before Smith purchased the building, he persuaded the city to let the main part stand by rounding up volunteers to demolish an accessory structure vagrants used for access.

And finally, there was the smell. Not only had it become a home for vagrants, it had also been a bar for 80 years, and had all the rankness associated with stale beer, questionable sanitary practices and drunken people.

The smell is gone now, and the building is slowly returning to its original state, with two storefront spaces instead of one and an open upstairs that, pending rezoning to allow a mixed-use building, will become a 2,000-square-foot condominium for Smith and his family, who now live in Carmel.

The total project, including grants for façade improvements and technical assistance, will cost close to $175,000, Smith said. Most of that will come from Smith himself, who has moved DataSmith out of leased space on the east side and back into his home to allow more funds to go into the Mayfair renovation.

Nearby, the civic association is taking steps to spur more redevelopment like the Mayfair's. Crews recently demolished the former Short Stop market at 10th and Gray streets, along with two neighboring doubles, to create a three-lot developable site across from the new IPS School 54 under construction. There's no set plans for those lots, but Civic Association Director Tammi Hughes said the group is interested in attracting a mixed-use building incorporating retail and/or small businesses.

Fountain Square

Just southeast of downtown, the Fountain Square neighborhood is also taking on some new development because of the FOCUS initiative. Like East 10th Street, Fountain Square had been part of a national Main Street Program before being named a FOCUS corridor. The two programs share many of the same goals, so the two areas had a head start of sorts when the FOCUS corridors were announced in 2004.

Much of Fountain Square's current FOCUS efforts involve raising money for a streetscape program that will make the neighborhood around the namesake fountain more inviting and pedestrian-friendly, said Paul Baumgarten, director of Fountain Square Main Street and coordinator of the neighborhood's FOCUS efforts.

There are some building projects under way, however. Southeast Neighborhood Development Corp., which is sponsoring the FOCUS efforts in Fountain Square, has purchased a 1,950-square-foot former rooming house and is working with a local graphic designer who wants to put his offices in the building. A 650-square-foot detached garage may become home to an architectural salvage store.

Last year, several façade improvement projects benefited from FOCUS funds. One at Deano's Vino rebuilt an exterior stairway resembling the original structure; other projects resulted in new windows, new exterior paint and new neon signs for a handful of Fountain Square businesses.

16th Street

At nearly two miles long, the 16th Street corridor between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue is the longest of the FOCUS corridors.

Not surprisingly, work to date has concentrated on forming committees to focus on smaller chunks of the corridor and identify needs in those areas, said Amandula Henry, community development coordinator for Near North Development Corp.

One group is working on the area around 16th Street and Capitol Avenue, near Methodist Hospital; one is centering on 16th and Central Avenue, where Kroger Cos. owns a supermarket that it is considering expanding or rebuilding; one committee is studying transportation along the corridor; and another is focusing on 16th Street east of the Monon Trail.

The latter group has had the most tangible activity from the FOCUS initiative, Henry said. Although unaffiliated with the FOCUS program, the Martindale on the Monon residential project is spurring interest in East 16th Street as a commercial corridor because of the 150 new homes planned for the area.

The FOCUS program has resulted in façade improvements for existing businesses in that area and efforts to convert a warehouse at 16th Street and the Monon into artist studios.

"My main goal is to look at blighted areas to help neighbors and investors see the benefit of becoming a neighborhoodbased business," Henry said. "The neighborhoods around here are really flourishing. We would love to have that retail growth so that residents can patronize businesses in the area."

MLK

Obtaining vacant land is one of the biggest challenges facing the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor, said Robert Hawthorne, commercial corridor coordinator for the United North West Area Development Association.

Hawthorne and others active in the corridor between Fall Creek and 38th Street have spent the last year or so getting buyin on FOCUS goals from those along the corridor.

"One of our biggest issues was to get people engaged, in particular the residents and even the businesses, to a certain extent," he said.

In the last few months, Hawthorne said, he's noticed the efforts have paid off.

"People are more amenable to selling or leasing or being a part of new develop- ment," he said. "It's taken a turn. We're now met with the challenge of pulling funds together to acquire properties and to figure out how to hold properties to acquire to make sure they're available for development."

Hawthorne and other organizers would like to see faster progress, but projects such as a new post office and a new gas station at 29th Street and MLK have helped generate interest in the corridor, he said.

"Everything is looking positive right now," Hawthorne said.

West Washington

When it was announced as a FOCUS corridor several months after the first four kicked off, West Washington Street between Belmont and Tibbs avenues was envisioned as a cultural mecca of businesses that would lure patrons from far beyond its near-west-side boundaries.

That's still the goal, but organizers soon discovered the first task would be to bridge communication gaps among the diverse cultures of the surrounding neighborhoods, said Kerry Spaulding, Hispanic services manager and West Washington coordinator at Hawthorn Community Center.

In recent years, many of the buildings along West Washington Street have been bought or leased by Hispanic entrepreneurs, creating a Hispanic business district. However, neighborhoods surrounding the corridor are a diverse mixture of Hispanic, black and white residents. Organizers soon discovered some resentment and apprehension among the groups.

One of Spaulding's main goals in her eight months on the job has been to foster communication and to organize events bringing together all the neighborhood's cultures, such as a fall Hootenanny Fiesta. The group is also seeking sponsors for a film series that would alternate between subtitled Spanish- and English-language movies.
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