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City proposes historic district for Monument Circle and nearby area

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Such modern buildings as the Conrad Hotel and headquarters for Emmis Communications Corp. and WellPoint Inc. could become part of a new historic preservation district for the Monument Circle.

The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission is proposing to take under its jurisdiction 90 buildings on and near the Circle, giving the city stricter control over signage and other changes to building exteriors. Notice of the proposal was sent to the property owners Monday, city officials said.

“I think a lot of people will be surprised to find it isn’t protected,” said David Baker, administrator of the preservation commission. Monument Circle is part of a National Register Historic District, but that federal designation doesn't create a local review process. 

monument circle historic district 15colThis map shows the boundaries of the proposed Monument Circle district, including some 90 buildings on or near the Circle. (Image/City of Indianapolis)

The proposed district would follow roughly the same boundaries as the federal district, but also take in buildings along Washington Street that aren't already captured by downtown's Wholesale District south of the Circle. The Monument Circle district would exclude Hilbert Circle Theatre and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, as those are already protected. 

Creating the district has been a priority for the commission since Circle Center Mall was built in the early 1990s, but staff didn’t have time to develop a plan, Baker said.

The not-for-profit preservation group Indiana Landmarks four years ago provided the city with enough money to hire consultants to conduct building inventories and help create the plan, which will be subject to two public hearings. The plan must pass the preservation commission as well as the Metropolitan Development Commission.

A community meeting is scheduled July 25 at the Indiana Landmarks Center.

Landmarks President Marsh Davis said there was no single event or change that prompted his concern. "There's always the possibility something unfortunate can happen," he said. “This is the preeminent cultural center not just of the city but the whole state.”

The Circle dates back at least as far as 1821, when it was included in the Plat of the Town of Indianapolis. It surrounded the intended site of the governor's house, according to "The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis." The Soldiers and Sailors Monument was erected bwteeen 1888 and 1901.

Baker said the historic district designation would not mean an extra layer of bureaucracy for property owners. A wide area in and around downtown is already covered by the Regional Center Plan, in which building and signage changes get a separate staff review and, if a project is worth more than $1 million, a separate public hearing. If the Monument Circle area is designated as a historic district, properties within it would no longer be subject to the Regional Center review.

The city's preservation commission has jurisdiction over 16 districts, including three commercial areas—the downtown Wholesale District, Massachusetts Avenue and Fountain Square.

The Monument Circle area is unique in that it represents a "mish mash" of architectural styles and periods, Baker said. Unlike in other historic districts, every building will be considered as contributing to the district's character, and thus subject to stricter standards.  

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  • District
    BRAVO do not want the area to look like Carmel's Disneyland Main Street
  • Yes to traffic Fresh Air
    We've been down this road many times since the 1970's and, YES we keep the TRAFFIC on the Circle at any and all cost!! Only the naïve , uninformed and idealistic can propose the no traffic concept, unless we want to Kill the entire circle area, of which we don't! The new District is a good idea, assuming the IHPC is informed and open enough to be professional and intelligent with their decision making. Politics cannot work on the Circle, it's too Important to Indy and the State...it is our center, and it is our unique Circle, not one like it in all the USA!
  • Bad Idea
    I am guessing the previous comment(s) are from those who don't own property in the subject area. Another layer of bureaucratic oversight is EXACTLY what we DO NOT NEED! These people are happy to spend other people's money to dictate what they feel is necessary to preserve the "historic" nature.
  • Move the Traffic
    I'll use Vienna's Karnnerstrasse as a model of how a pedestrian zone could work on Monument Circle. Deliveries are allowed prior to business hours and the rest of the time emergency vehicles and police only are allowed. Monument Circle could be the premier pedestrian zone in the U.S. with top caliber restaurants with outdoor seating as well as other retail, hopefully, owned by locals. It takes vision and an open mind to overcome obstacles.
  • Empowered Preserve Eclectic
    The thought of more bureaucracy is applauding to some,but I applaud this level of review to preserve the uniqueness of the architecture of the Circle area. The uniqueness is in the statements made in regards to the city's history, ethnicity with various architectural designs of German, Italian, Egyptian, and American influence, and reaching compromises in the use of facades and adaptive reuse.

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