In the midst of a $1.2 million campaign to upgrade streets, sidewalks and other neighborhood infrastructure, a coalition of Irvington businesses and residents is launching a unique marketing campaign to tout the neighborhood's recent enhancements and position it as an alternative to places such as Carmel, Zionsville, Geist and Noblesville.
Irvington officials have plowed $10,000 into the effort so far, but they say that number will grow after they kick off the campaign, which includes an e-commerce Web site, June 20.
Irvington merchandise will be sold on the Web site and at an information center along East Washington Street. Sale proceeds should allow the 139-year-old neighborhood to invest tens of thousands more dollars into the marketing campaign.
Irvington merchandise will also be sold at area restaurants and other businesses. Irvington businesses are considering cross promotions that would give their patrons discounts on goods and services if they buy Irvington-branded merchandise. A neighborhood coffee shop, for example, might discount its coffee to anyone who brings in an Irvington mug.
The Irvington Information Center will be funded in part by a $6,400 federal Preserve America Grant. Street, sidewalk and landscape upgrades are being funded by a pair of $500,000 Federal Transportation Enhancement grants, plus $253,000 in matching funds raised by businesses and civic organizations in the area, which lies north and south of East Washington Street from Emerson Avenue on the west to Edmondson Avenue on the east.
Lodge Design Co., which is in the neighborhood, has been hired to develop and implement the marketing campaign, including various forms of advertising and the launch of www. shopIrvington.com. Lodge will also help develop the Irvington-branded merchandise.
"This is just a start to lay the groundwork for what Irvington will do over the next few years," said Lodge principal Jarrett Hagy.
The campaign, which carries the tag line "Celebrate Irvington," will emphasize Irvington's housing market, growing business district, and parks and recreation amenities, Hagy said.
"We want to try to reach people within Irvington first, then we want to reach outward beyond Irvington," Hagy said.
The campaign is aimed at trying to get people inside and outside the area to patronize local businesses and also is an attempt to lure more residents and businesses to the area. Lodge officials are still devising a plan to reach beyond Irvington with its message and expect to lay out those plans later this year. Elements could include billboards, print and other advertising.
"There are a lot of newer suburban developments trying to capture what Irvington already has," said Amandula Henry, Irvington Development Organization executive director. "Those developments are being very aggressive in their marketing, and it's time Irvington start speaking up for itself and let people know what we offer."
Irvington's marketing initiative dates back to 2005, shortly after the neighborhood's application to become a local cultural district was denied.
"We realized if locals didn't speak up for Irvington, no one would," Henry said.
Irvington isn't the only established neighborhood trying to stand above suburban clutter. A marketing push dubbed "Unsung Indy" was launched April 1 by a coalition that includes Holy Cross, Ransom Place and Watson-McCord neighborhoods. Irvington is also a part of the Unsung Indy campaign, but Henry said the neighborhood's own plan takes the marketing initiative one big leap forward.
Although the phenomenon of neighborhoods' launching marketing campaigns is relatively new here, the trend has been sweeping parts of the East Coast for several years.
"Some of the best examples of this I've seen are in parts of Baltimore where communities are taking an ownership stake in their own future," said Andy Fraizer, executive director of the locally based Indiana Association for Community Economic Development.
Neighborhood marketing efforts are just starting to crop up in places like Haughville, Fountain Square, Broad Ripple and the downtown Wholesale District, Fraizer said, but he added that Irvington's is one of the more advanced.
"It's important for these areas to be able to compete with the large marketing budget that comes with new development," Fraizer said. "There's a strong existing set of resources that exists within our community, and Irvington is definitely one of those assets. But if no one knows about those areas, they wither and die."
Irvington officials have a tall task before them, said David Bayse, principal of Relocation Strategies, an Indianapolis-based corporate relocation specialist.
"It's difficult for Irvington to compete with places like Carmel and Fishers when it comes to housing, educational opportunities, and restaurants and shopping," said Bayse, who owns property in Irvington. "The growth and demographic statistics alone lead people to the north. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Henry countered that many more corporate executives and business owners are looking for an urban setting to live and work.
"People find we are very eco-friendly here," Henry said. "You can walk to so many destinations, places that weren't even here 10 years ago."
But Bayse said Irvington isn't the only urban neighborhood offering such amenities.
"Irvington also has to compete with places like Fountain Square, Chatham Arch and Lockerbie Square," Bayse said. "I think the initiative they are undertaking is a good one strategically. But that doesn't mean it will be easy."
Irvington real estate agent Dan Adams, of Artisan Realtors, thinks Irvington compares nicely with other urban areas in Indianapolis.
"It's got more of a family feel than Broad Ripple, and offers a restaurant and retail component that is not available in an area like Meridian-Kessler," Adams said. "I think Irvington can be a great visitor destination and a consideration for families and businesses looking to relocate. It's time someone started trumpeting Irvington's strengths."
Adams said an important step will be getting buy-in from real estate agents.
"They almost automatically point people north," Adams said. "There's a lot to offer in other areas of our city."
The only way for Irvington businesses to overcome the challenges and continue growth is it to band together, said John Robertson, owner of The Legend Café in Irvington.
"With the stigma of the east side and the track record of empty storefronts that we've had here for so long, it will take a massive collective effort to turn this around," Robertson said. "A lot of people within Irvington aren't even aware of the progress this area has made the last six years. That speaks to the magnitude of the job we have before us."