Kessler Mansion neighbors balk at business uses

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Plans for an entrepreneurship camp set to start in June in the Kessler Mansion have sparked concerns over whether the lavish north-side property can be used for business purposes.

Indianapolis officials and a neighborhood association are looking into whether using the mansion for commercial purposes violates zoning rules. The estate is located at 4923 Kessler Blvd. East Drive, in the Millersville at Fall Creek Valley neighborhood.

Kessler Mansion owner Chad Folkening is the co-founder of VentureCamp, an eight-week entrepreneurship training program set to launch at the mansion on June 2. Organizers plan to capture the experience on video as part of a documentary series that will air on the program’s website.

But the plans raise a red flag for some of the neighborhood’s residents, who have complained in the past about parties and noise at the property.

“[The parties] were out of control,” said City-County Councilor Christine Scales, who represents the neighborhood's district. “They were loud, and many people could not sleep. There were all sorts of characters walking around.”

Scales said she is looking into whether VentureCamp has a legal right to operate at Kessler Mansion.

A spokesman for the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement, which oversees zoning law matters, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Plans for VentureCamp have spurred neighbors to investigate action against the property.

Catharine Diehr, chairwoman of neighborhood association Millersville at Fall Creek Valley Inc., said her organization's objection is “simply the fact that [Folkening’s] got a commercial establishment in a residential neighborhood."

Folkening, a Westfield native turned Internet domain tycoon, offers the estate for event rentals. The mansion’s website advertises a total 26,000 square feet spanning three main buildings, a pool house and an apartment.  Property records list the assessed value as $1.4 million.

Jennifer Chikes, a spokeswoman for VentureCamp, said she was surprised about the complaints. The feedback the program has received so far has been positive, she said.

“We’d be happy to discuss any of these concerns,” Chikes said.

The program will involve 12 aspiring entrepreneurs who live and work alongside established business executives as they launch their own enterprises. The program is free to participants.

Not all the neighbors take issue with the camp. Kate Miller, who lives directly west of Kessler Mansion, said she has never had any noise issues with the estate in the nine months she’s lived there.

The camp should be a positive for Indianapolis, she added, because it will draw in entrepreneurs.

“Personally, I think it’s a neat project,” Miller said. “We’ve not really ever heard of anything like this happening here.”



  • "Mansion?"
    Can IBJ please stop referring to this property as "Kessler Mansion"? What a ridiculous title for the biggest, bloated, blight in our city. It's not a mansion. At best, it's an ideal site to shoot low-budget porn. Ahhh! Another business use!
  • good luck
    love the live in incubator concept and that mansion is a great spot for it... hope everything works out for you guys!
  • Home Professional Voices
    Our economy has over 100,000,000 business professionals and a majority of them work from home and home office businesses... That property is historic in Indy and looked like crap for years. ANY use of the property for anything positive should be embraced with open arms. I know that when you have a few people controlling new neighborhood associations (did my research, they are just over 3 years old) that the small group tries to yield power they really dont have or deserve. I would think homeowners have rights and from what I have read in comments, his neighbors were the rowdy ones and others support it. Also if you read deeper into this story, they sound like all high-tech Internet companies so not sure the violation here if its all online, no retail or open to the public. Its a Global economy and most operate from their homes and this sounds like what they are doing. If he pays his taxes and operates Internet businesses out of his home does that mean the hundreds of millions of tax paying americans like me cannot also work from home and have employees to pay bills and put food on the table? In this economy who can afford to pay office space if you have only 4 helpers. I travel alot and see alot and any other city, this would be a joke and such a none issue as our world has way more issues to deal with. What about the murders, thefts and lack of jobs in the area, those are concerns that rarely get any attention. The neighborhood the estate is in sucks, well not as bad as others, but has commercial buildings all around within 100 yards if you google map it. I also read a neighbor, 2 neighbors commented and support the project, sure likely many more would support it so sounds like a small group trying to take rights away from a person that has shown commitment to the community for many years. I own a home and pay my taxes and run a successful small business out of my house with 3 employees and dont see any violations here. If he is, the city should give him a variance to keep people like this in town. I mean, can we really stop him from having 20 people coming over and visiting or even living there? Its 26,000 ft. so I would say not so when does the law put so much pressure on our citizens, especially ones that seem like they are trying to make life better for others and actually doing something. WE AS TAX PAYERS, voted our politicans into office and it sounds like the association president is the one likely having support on this forum as well as the owners friends. Look around people, if you have ever been outside of Indiana, you should embrace these leaders and people with open arms. I can see the state and City actually paying him to run these programs or keep his businesses in the state. I have seen to many grants and credits issued to companies to create jobs and for training over the years and hardly do they ever pan out. I cant imagine how hard and risky this project is but do know how hard it is to bring any of my top clients to visit me in Indy. I get "Indy, no thanks", If I were him, I would just sell the place, get out of town as I'm sure other cities would embrace him and his business with open arms and likely give him resources and support. Move out to LA, San Fran, Miami, Austin, Boulder as Indy doesnt deserve to have people and ideas like this. I think its one of the coolest Ideas I have seen and a great and legal use for the property. Hope they get it fiqured out.
  • Variance
    Sure sounds like a lot of Chad's friends are in support of him. I also believe in zoning laws and Chad will clearly be in violation. If this is allowed for Chad, this should be allowed for others and a dangerous precedent is set. It is not Christine nor Indy officials that are trying to prevent business here in Indy. They just want any business to obey and abide my our local laws and variance. This is in clear violation of zoning laws and should be relocated to a properly zoned property.
    • Christine Scales
      She is a nice lady,but has not brought one new job to her district and probably won't.She is too busy attacking the Mayor
    • Bring back the pimp?
      Gee whiz, the guy who built it was a convicted pimp with really bad taste in architecture. I understand it was a hell of a swingers club at one time too. But here a new owner wants to do something that may help our community or at least bring some positive press to Indy nurturing entrepreneurship. Get a permit or variance or a petition if needed, but the neighbors should support someone who makes a high tech silk purse out of the Kessler "Mansion" sow's ear.
    • Christine Scales just pandering
      This is pretty typical of Scales. Nice lady,but has not a clue as to the real world. Yes, Christine,lets push new companies away.Lets push jobs away..lets just let that unique building sit there vacant, collecting dust. Jobs" Who needs jobs?
    • That would be a shame!
      I was invited at one of the few events at the Kessler mansion because I live in the same neigborhood and I have to say I had the time of my life. I met some amazing people, from the founder of Google Adsense, foreign entrepreneurs and some other cool local people. Most of these people would never have come to Indianapolis, unless it was for the owner and the estate - I also met the owner briefly and he seems like a family man mostly concerned with his 2 little kids. It is sad that others don't understand the importance of these events for Indianapolis and the local entrepreneurship community.
    • find another....
      i think a lot of you people are creating an uproar over nothing, just move somewhere else. zoning laws are in place for certain reasons, and as many of you should know anytime you do certain things w/ residential property you have to abide by certain covenants. i think many of you on here are his friends so naturally support it. but to sit here and say Indy doesn't support entrepreneurs is laughable at best. why does it have to be at his house? would it be the end of the world? this could really go on anywhere, but don't act like the city is singling him out.
    • More Business in Indianapolis
      Chad has been so supportive of the entrepreneurial business community in Indianapolis. He hosted our Verge startup event, which included over 200 leaders in the business community, including both Mayoral candidates (at the time). This event at Kessler Mansion helped raise thousands of dollars for the United Way and exposed many new faces to fundable technology businesses (including one startup that has since been acquired and another startup that just won a Mira award). I was excited to hear about the VentureCamp show, because I know that it could help bring more resources to our growing startup community. I'm disappointed to hear that people aren't supportive of this new opportunity and hope people will look for ways to collaborate rather than combat.
    • Variance
      Sounds like Chad has quit a following, too bad we all have to abide by zoning laws, otherwise we'd have junk yards next to our homes, bars and factories next to our schools, and hog farms in downtown Indy. Reality TV...what an oxymoron that is anyway, there is no such thing folks!...and since when do 'real' entrepreneurs have to have a competition and live together to develop their ideas?
    • Can't Stop Entrepreneurship
      Entrepreneurship is a force more powerful than most people realize. It has built skyscrapers and moved mountains. The City of Indianapolis should celebrate ideas like this -- these are the types of ideas that will change our city, state and country for the better. Even if they do bull doze his house, he should set up tents on the remains and continue moving upwards and onwards. Never, Never, Never Give Up.
    • i don't get it....
      I'm sorry, but I don't get the reality Tv idea? it doesn't really sound interesting to watch. maybe i'm wrong, but i'd rather be watching duck dynasty......i don't see anything wrong w/ doing the reality thing but in the end seems pretty boring to me.
    • Wake up people!
      What a great idea for this property! I live next door to this property and have seen such quiet times around there these past 9 months. What an awesome idea, to bring bright minded, motivated and determined entrepreneurs to the Indianapolis area to help them kick start their ideas. A great way to positively promote our community. To all those opposed: how about, instead, Chad decided to lease his property to a family of 12 that also offers FREE daycare to all their relatives? (not a business) Just some other thoughts for Chad if this idea gets squashed by the neighborhood association.
    • D-List
      it's kinda funny if you knew the type of people who frequented these parties. it's the same fake, wanna-be d-list celebrities you will find at Bella Vita on a Sunday afternoon or out on Geist. fake fake fake, just northsiders who want to be 'scene' and think they are above other in Indy, when in reality nobody really cares. it's like a bunch of northside divorcees, men who are 40 and single for a reason bc they blow there money poppin' bottles at a club to impress. but in the end who cars what goes on there right, same w/ zoning. i'm guessing someone pissed someone off in the 'i'm too stuck up for indy club'
    • suspicious
      First of all, some of these comments seem suspiciously like they are from a public relations firm. Secondly, the place should be bulldozed. The front looks like one of those cheap garden statuary shops you see along a road.
    • residence or business?
      Not to be a wet blanket, but the issue here is simply whether or not you can run a business out of your home. Zoning laws are pretty clear about that and I wouldn't want some business opening up next to my home either. It sets all sorts of precedents. As for loud parties. That's what the cops are for. You can't zone for loud neighbors. Although if this place is being rented out not as a home, but purely just for overnight parties, it sounds like he's already running the place like a business.
    • Good Use
      I drive by this property every day on my way to work and have thought that it would make a great Bed & Breakfast. The I san the article about the VentureCamp and thought, wow, what a terrific idea! This is perfect for the bulding and the area. I doubt seriously if the participants are going to be having all night booze parties. Think about it people.
    • Great use
      This is a great use for the property. Congrats Chad and B!
    • Be Fair...
      Why is this such a big deal? The guy in question -Chad- is a friend of mine. Venturecamp will be great for the city of Indianapolis. How can we get so shortsighted to prevent this level of growth over matters such as those raised. Was anyone robbed/assaulted during "these parties"? Did you inform the police? I owned the home directly west of Chad. Lived there for a while (did not have a single party in 4 years), eventually moved and put tenants there; I learnt they (my tenants) were rowdy. The moment this came to my attention I acted by filing papers with the courts to evict them. Even Chad had issues with their parties as well, called me about the matter and I acted. Chad is a peaceful person, had no issues with him as a neighbour. Let him do what he needs to do, if he wants to house 12 people in his 30,000 sq.ft mansion then so be it. 12 PEOPLE LIVING IN A HOME AND WORKING IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM A PARTY. THIS IS NOT A PARTY - IT'S GROWTH FOR THE CITY, We can easily be the silicon valley of the mid-west.
    • Brain Drain Still the Battle in Indiana
      Every time anything entrepreneurial has been done in Indy, it has been shut down. The property has been quietly rented, only one big party a year, during Moto Gp and Formula One, which were done for charity. It is absolutely amazing, what neighbors can tell you to do with your property. Indiana should support and welcome great minds to the city of Indianapolis.
    • Don't Mind
      I live in the immediate area next to the Kessler Mansion. I like the idea of VentureCamp, assuming no tax dollars go towards it. The big parties never bothered me. The mansion is an eye sore when vacant. Good luck with your venture VentureCamp.
    • Sleepy minds for a sleepy town
      That's right... push entrepreneurs away from Indianapolis so we don't bother anyone.

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