Apartments and Mixed-Use and Residential Real Estate and Development/Redevelopment and Low-Income Housing and Economic Development and Real Estate & Retail

Mass Ave project works toward April approval

March 2, 2010

A Massachusetts Avenue project announced two years ago is zeroing in on financing but will face some opposition over the amount of parking the plan calls for when it seeks city approval next month.

Trail Side on Mass Ave would include 69 one-bedroom apartments and about 23,000 square feet of ground-level retail space in a four-story building. The project is proposed for a site at 875 Massachusetts Ave. now occupied by a building owned by the Center Township Trustee.

Riley Area Development Corp., community development corporation that encourages development in the northeast quadrant of downtown, would develop Trail Side. Riley anticipates tearing down the building after gaining control of the site by entering into a long-term land lease with the trustee.

The trustee is expected to approve the land lease at a meeting this month, said Bill Gray, Riley Area’s executive director. The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission then must sign off on the design of the new building and the demolition of the existing building. The project is on IHPC’s March 3 agenda, but Riley Area has asked for and expects to receive a continuance to the April 7 IHPC meeting.

Approval of the project in April would allow Riley Area to move forward with its plans to finance Trail Side with low- to moderate-income housing tax credits. The $10 million to $12 million project would be financed largely with the credits, which the state of Indiana approved for sale last year.

Gray said Riley Area has a letter of intent to sell the credits to Woodland Hills, Calif.-based Alliant Capital, which buys and resells such credits. Closing on the sale of the credits could come as early as June, which would allow demolition of the trustee building in September. Gray said construction could begin this fall, with completion about a year later.

If Alliant buys the tax credits, it will be a sign that the market for such credits is thawing, said Evan Voight, a financial analyst for Herman & Kittle Properties, a local firm that develops affordable housing, often through the sale of such credits.

A year ago, the market for the credits had all but evaporated. Banks and other investors buy the tax credits to offset profits. For buyers, the question a year ago was whether there would be any profits to offset. With buyers on the sidelines, companies like Alliant were steering clear of the credits, too.

Voight said one reason for the thaw is the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which mandates a certain level of investment in urban areas where banks have depositors. The CRA isn’t new, but it's driving improvement in the market, he said. The bigger the city, the more likely banks are to buy the credits to satisfy their reinvestment obligation. Voight said Trail Side’s location would make its credits more marketable than credits tied to a project in one of the surrounding counties.

Trail Side, designed by the local architectural firm A2SO4, would feature units of between 600 and 700 square feet. They would rent to tenants with incomes that range between 30 percent and 60 percent of the median income. Rents would range from $325 to around $700.

Tom Battista, a long-time property owner in the 800 block of Massachusetts Avenue, objects to the project because he said it doesn’t include enough parking to satisfy demand.

“I think it would economically jeopardize the other businesses in the area for lack of parking,” said Battista, whose commercial building across the street houses R Bistro restaurant and a number of other merchants.

Battista said more than 40 people work in the businesses that occupy the 9,300 square feet of retail space in his building. Those employees and customers of the businesses only have access to angled parking spaces on Massachusetts Ave.

Trail Side, theoretically, would attract even more employees and customers to its considerably larger retail space. Add in the 69 apartments and parking plans for the project are inadequate, said Battista, who said he will oppose Trail Side unless it significantly increases the number of parking spaces in the plan.

Gray said his group estimates Trail Side will result in about 50 new spaces in the area. Half or more of those would be in new surface parking to be built behind the structure. Gray said Riley Area figures it will be about 33 spaces short of what is needed and will ask for a variance of parking standards at its hearing with IHPC.

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