Children's Museum plans neighborhoods' revitalization

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The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is about to expand its role in urban redevelopment.

The museum, which has already invested more than $1 million in the half-dozen blocks around its campus on North Meridian Street, now will help create a comprehensive plan for an area that encompasses six nearby neighborhoods.

The plan is intended to spur new investment in the area, which is roughly a triangle with points at Crown Hill Cemetery, Interstate 65 at Fall Creek Parkway, and 38th Street at the parkway. Revitalization also would help the museum, which decided about a decade ago to stay in a declining neighborhood and try to turn it around.

“We can’t just be the 800-pound gorilla in the neighborhood,” CEO Jeffrey Patchen said.

Patchen Patchen

With its $253 million endowment and 14 acres of land, the Children’s Museum is like any number of large institutions, especially universities, that take an interest in surrounding neighborhoods to protect their own assets.

Often, that means buying land and holding it for future expansion, but some universities have also played developer in an effort to improve neighborhoods, said Eugene Tempel, president of the IU Foundation and a professor of philanthropic studies.

With huge investments in their land and buildings, Tempel said, “They can’t afford to let the value of that physical plant be impacted.”

The Children’s Museum has used both strategies. It owns lots around its neighbor to the north, the long-vacant Winona Memorial Hospital, and would like to build an outdoor attraction on the site, which the city owns through tax liens. By funding the Near North Development Corp., the museum also plays a major role in housing redevelopment in the area.

The museum’s latest move was to propose a “Quality of Life Plan” for the area under the Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative. The museum will be a “neutral convener,” working with residents, Ivy Tech Community College and local churches, said Anthony Bridgeman, the museum’s director of community initiatives. The Near North and Mapleton-Fall Creek CDCs also have spots on the steering committee.

“We have an agenda, and our agenda is for the neighborhood to be strong and viable,” he said.

The plan will cover six neighborhoods: Crown Hill, Historic Meridian Park, Highland Vicinity, Meridian Highland, Mapleton-Fall Creek and Watson-McCord.

The idea is for the neighborhoods to agree on a clear vision that will attract outside investment, said Bill Taft, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., or LISC, which partners with the city on Great Indy Neighborhoods.

Great Indy Neighborhoods’ success story so far is the near-east side, which drew the attention of the NFL’s 2012 Super Bowl host committee for a “legacy project” that involves rehabbing or building 300 housing units.

Children's Museum mapThe newest plan will likely address the quality of housing and businesses, but could also touch on education, crime or any number of topics. Bridgeman said the Children’s Museum would like to see the plan recognize North Meridian Street, which is also home to a number of schools, as an education corridor.

The Children’s Museum will use a $45,000 grant from LISC to hire a temporary staff member who will work full time with the plan’s steering committee. The group’s work kicks off in August and is expected to take a year.

Once the plan is adopted, the museum will help oversee the follow-through, Bridgeman said.

“It’s a big undertaking, but I’m really excited about it,” he said.

Doug Day, president of the Historic Meridian Park association, said he’s glad the museum took on the planning project. It’s something his group of about 220 homes could never tackle on its own.

“We’re darn good at putting on a summer barbecue,” he said.

Financing renewal

Patchen credits former board member Mark Boyce, an executive with homebuilder C.P. Morgan who later moved to Charlotte, N.C., with pushing the museum to become involved in neighborhood revitalization.

When Patchen arrived in 1999, the board was weighing whether to stay at 3000 N. Meridian St., or move to a site in White River State Park, he said. The museum decided to stay, and later set aside $3 million to spruce up its surroundings.

That money has been spent in the so-called “Children’s Museum District,” bounded by I-65 and Illinois Street on the west and east and by 34th and 28th streets on the north and south.

The museum designated $1 million in gap financing for various projects, including the streetscape improvements that greet drivers exiting I-65 at 30th Street.

A $2 million revolving fund provides zero-interest loans, which the Near North Development Corp. uses to acquire residential lots or help cover demolition and construction costs. The loans are repaid when Near North sells a new house.

Currently, the organization has $299,700 in loans outstanding, President Michael Osborne said. About half that money is in completed houses, and the other half was drawn in small amounts to buy derelict property, he said.

Near North is in the midst of a push to repair occupied homes, or demolish vacant property and rebuild—all in six square blocks west of the Children’s Museum’s Illinois Street parking garage. The area is from 30th to 33rd streets on Capitol and Kenwood avenues.

“What we’re doing in terms of housing revitalization is four to five times the scale of what was done in the past,” Osborne said.

With the museum’s revolving fund, plus federal stimulus and other grants, Osborne hopes to work on at least one-third of the area’s 150 parcels by 2013. With current funding, Near North aims to build 24 new units and repair 24 others.

Activity in the area is already noticeable. Three spec houses on Kenwood Avenue are for sale, and more lots sport signs advertising the opportunity for custom homes. The new houses, which are priced at less than $90,000, sit next to aging buildings in a variety of conditions.

From her newly built front porch, Juanita Simmons has a view of a boarded-up, two-story house and the back side of the museum’s brick parking garage.

Simmons is a fan of the garage. After she moved to Kenwood Avenue in December, she found out that the watchful eye of the museum’s security camera could see her house as well.

“That was nice to know,” Simmons said.•


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  1. Now if he'd just stay there...

  2. Daniel - what about the many US citizens who do NOT follow what the Bible teaches? The Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others who are all American citizens entitled to all rights as Americans?? This issue has NOTHING to do with "What the Bible says..." Keep all Churches separate from State! Pence's ongoing idiocy continues to make Indiana look like a backwards, homophobic state in the eyes of our nation. Can't we move on to bigger issues - like educating our kids?

  3. 1. IBJ should link to the referenced report. We are in the age of electronic media...not sharing information is lazy. Here is a link http://www.in.gov/gov/files/Blue_Ribbon_Panel_Report_July_9_2014.pdf 2. The article should provide more clarity about the make-up of this panel. The commenters are making this item out to be partisan, it does not appear the panel is partisan. Here is a list of the panel which appears to be balanced with different SME to add different perspectives http://www.in.gov/activecalendar/EventList.aspx?view=EventDetails&eventidn=138116?formation_id=189603 3. It suggests a by-pass, I do not see where this report suggests another "loop". 4. Henry, based on your kneejerk reaction, we would be better off if you moved to another state unless your post was meant as sarcasm in which case I say Well Done. 5. The article and report actually indicates need to improve rail and port infrastructure in direct contradiction to Shayla commentary. Specifically, recommendation is to consider passenger rail projects... 6. People have a voice with their elected officials. These are suggestions and do not represent "crony capitalism", etc. The report needs to be analyzed and the legislature can decide on priorities and spending. Don't like it, then vote in a new legislature but quit artificially creating issues where there are none! People need to sift through the politics and provide constructive criticism to the process rather than making uninformed comments in a public forum based on misinformation. IBJ should work harder to correct the record in these forums when blatant errors or misrepresentations are made.

  4. Joe ... Marriage is defined in the Bible ... it is mentioned in the Bible often. Marriage is not mentioned once in the US or Indiana Constitution ...

  5. Daniel - Educate me please: what does the Bible have to do with laws? If the government wasn't in the business of marriage to begin with, then it wouldn't have to "define" marriage at all. Marriage could be left as a personal, religious, or otherwise unregulated action, with no ties to taxes, legal status, etc. Then people could marry whomever they want, and all this silliness would go away. Remember to vote Libertarian in November.