The Irvington retail trade area stands to get a big boost from two projects set to begin this fall: Ossip Optometry’s renovation of a historic building and a $2.9 million makeover of East Washington Street designed to make the business district a draw for pedestrians.
Ossip’s decision to locate its 15th area store in Irvington is expected to raise the retail profile of the historic, east-side neighborhood.
Ossip closed July 12 on the purchase of a freestanding building at 5606 E. Washington St. that housed an auto repair business until last year. The locally based eye-care chain will begin a complete rehab of the 3,800-square-foot structure this October and will occupy the space in the first quarter of next year.
The significance isn’t lost on those who have a stake in Irvington retail.
“To have a proven, successful local chain store move in there kind of validates the neighborhood,” said Bill Shank, who owns a 22,000-square-foot retail strip just east of the Ossip building.
“You could have rented it out to someone changing oil and brakes. I was scared to death that was going to happen. Ossip’s a classy operator,” said Shank, who bought the retail property three years ago. Shank’s tenants include Legend Classic Irvington Cafe, a restaurant that opened in 2003, and Jockamo Pizza, which opened in 2007.
Those independent restaurants and other local retailers that lease space from Shank will soon be joined by Black Acre Brewing Co., a small brewery and tasting room set to open by the end of the year in 2,200 square feet of space.
“Irvington has a nice sense of community,” said Justin Miller, one of five partners in Black Acre. Miller, 26, is starting the venture with his wife, a family friend and two law school classmates. Prompted by investors who are from the Irvington area, Miller said they’d been looking for a space there for about a year.
Among the properties they were drawn to was the 1892 building that Ossip just purchased. Ossip already had it under contract but had some obstacles to overcome before the recent closing.
Lack of access could have been a deal killer, said Jacque Haynes, a commercial broker with Cassidy Turley who represented Ossip. Layman Avenue, the residential street immediately west of the building, only runs south, meaning customers wouldn’t be able to turn north off of Washington to access the building’s 12 parking spaces.
“Layman being one way was detrimental to any retail development there,” said Haynes, who worked with community groups to build support for making Layman a two-way street. A proposal came before the City-County Council in April and was approved June 7.
Because Irvington is a city-designated historic district, Haynes also worked with the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission to get approval for exterior renovations to the building. Those will include a restored brick and wood façade, new windows and black awnings. The west wall has been reserved for a mural representative of Irvington.
Haynes, who had not previously done a deal in Irvington, said she learned a lot about the neighborhood in the process. She compared the dense, diverse trade area to Broad Ripple, Beech Grove and Speedway. “It has a faithful following,” she said.
Ossip’s decision to open in Irvington follows last year’s big score: George Thomas Florist moved from 10th Street and Shadeland Avenue into what had been an appliance store at 5609 E. Washington.
Next up is the multimillion-dollar Washington Corridor Streetscape Project, which will give Washington Street a new look from Emerson Avenue east almost to Arlington Avenue.
The neighborhood raised $253,000 toward the $1.6 million first phase, which is set to begin in October. The money came from large donors, such as PNC Bank, The Indianapolis Foundation and Citizens Energy, and from individuals and neighborhood groups.
Those funds will be added to more than $1 million provided by the federal government as part of its effort to restore the historic National Road, which is called Washington Street in Marion County.
The first phase will cover five blocks between Irvington and Bolton avenues, the stretch where Ossip is locating. It will include a landscaped median, walkways, decorative lighting and benches. It should be finished next spring.
The $1.3 million second phase is funded and will run from Emerson to Irvington Avenue, said Amandula Henry, executive director of the Irvington Development Organization, a not-for-profit founded in 2002 to encourage redevelopment of the neighborhood.
Henry said Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is donating all plantings for the project’s first phase.