The Indiana office of the American Legion is moving to a new home at Fort Benjamin Harrison, leaving its building on Meridian Street open to a new user for the first time since its construction in the mid-1920s.
The Indiana War Memorial Commission, which owns 777 N. Meridian St., will seek state assistance to modernize the four-story, Neoclassical building. Costs of the project are still being estimated, said Brigadier Gen. Stewart Goodwin, executive director of the commission.
Goodwin said he will seek grants in addition to state funding to pay for the project.
“The building’s on the National Register [of Historic Places], and it’s an important building,” Goodwin said. “We need to find an occupant for it and get back in business.”
As the original home of the American Legion’s national headquarters, the Meridian Street building is where the organization drafted documents that led to the G.I. Bill and the modern department of Veteran Affairs, said Ed Trice, department commander for the state of Indiana.
American Legion’s current national headquarters, which occupies 700 N. Pennsylvania St., is not moving, Goodwin said.
The national headquarters moved across the lawn to Pennsylvania Street around 1950 and left the Indiana department behind. While neither office pays rent to the Indiana War Memorial Commission, the Meridian Street building is nevertheless too expensive to occupy, Trice said.
With a 13-member staff, the state office pays about $144,000 a year for steam heat, electricity, parking and other expenses for the building’s interior, Trice said. Annual expenses for the new office at 5440 Herbert Lord Road will be $30,000 to $40,000 per year.
“So that kind of makes sense when you see the numbers,” Trice said. The office will move by July 1.
The Indiana Department of the American Legion tapped a special building fund to pay cash for the Fort Ben property, acquired from the Indiana Soccer League, Trice said. He declined to disclose the sale price.
The Legion will put the savings back into programs for veterans and has already hired an additional staff member, Trice said. The Legion has 89,000 members and 374 posts in Indiana.
It will be a couple of years before the Indiana War Memorial Commission finds a new tenant for the Meridian Street building. Goodwin said he’ll request the rehab money during the next state budget process and, if awarded, the earliest it will become available is July 1, 2015. Goodwin anticipates making the building handicap-accessible and remediating asbestos and mold.