Vacant downtown building called critical to proposed redevelopment

May 8, 2014
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Milhaus Development LLC wants to build another apartment project on North College Avenue south of Massachusetts Avenue.

But the preliminary plan received a chilly reception Wednesday from members of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

                              building 225pxThe local multifamily developer is proposing to demolish a vacant structure at 720 N. College Ave., across the street from where its Circa apartments project is under construction. In its place, it wants to build a five-story apartment building with 32 units and up to 65 parking spaces.

The two-story brick building that Milhaus wants to tear down dates to the 1890s, although several additions were made up until the 1930s.

“It would be impossible for me to support tearing this down,” IHPC member Susan Williams said.

Other members agreed, instead encouraging Milhaus to incorporate aspects of the building into the design or at least save the façade.

“It strikes me as an opportunity to come in with an unusual solution rather than a predictable solution,” IHPC Chairman and Ratio Architects Inc. founder Bill Browne said. “It may be economically impossible, but it’s something to think about.”

About 20 residents of the Chatham Arch neighborhood, many from the Mill No. 9 building just to the south of the property, attended to voice their displeasure with Milhaus’ plans.

Milhaus presented its plans to IHPC in what’s called a preliminary review, in which the commission takes no action. If Milhaus wants to pursue the project, it could return to IHPC with an actual filing that would be voted upon.

The firm is evaluating the feedback from IHPC members to determine how to move forward, Jeremy Stephenson, executive vice president of development, said Thursday morning.

The property at 720 N. College Ave. is owned by Lyle Feigenbaum, who operated the Scholars Inn Restaurant and Lounge on Mass Ave until 2010. At one time, he had planned to remodel the building for a bakery.

Feigenbaum said in a letter to IHPC that he has had “zero interest to even negotiate a deal to sell or lease due directly to the condition of the building.”

Many of the walls are crumbling, the second floor is in such poor shape that it’s too dangerous to walk on, and there’s no plumbing or electricity in the building, he said.

Feigenbaum would team with Milhaus on the project, similar to the partnership they’ve forged to develop the two remaining lots on the east side of North College Avenue and south of Mass Ave. for another apartment project with retail on the ground level.

  • slow the pace
    I live right here, and have for years. It's hard for me to remain excited about more and more residential projects until more restaurants and bars start opening to go with them. We're adding hundreds and hundreds of new apartments each year to this neighborhood, while only adding one or two bars or restaurants (and most are just replacing other bars). The result is nobody can get a table anywhere anymore! Will somebody in the restaurant business please jump on this opportunity? Mass Ave area can support about 10 more bars, or more
    • Sigh
      Just because something is old, doesn't make it "historic." What is the point of saving this building that sounds like it beyond repair and has absolutely no architectural value. The quotes from Ratio Architects founder Bill Browne are especially rich, considering the bland crap they continue to design all around Indianapolis.
      • Tear It Down
        That place is an eye-sore. It should have been gone long ago.
      • Sighs ASIDE
        When the owner of this property advertised it for sale he included the historic nature of the building as a selling point… just as he did when he proposed his own plans years ago to save and update the building as a bakery for his restaurants. Indy was one of the first cities in the USA to have trolley cars and if you excavate many of downtown's streets you will still find remnants of those tracks. Initially the trolley cars were pulled by horses and it's believed this building was a livery that housed some of those horses. While most of these structures have already been lost this is an opportunity to maintain this historical significance. So, Sighs aside the seller knew the significance of the site when they bought it and again when trying to sell it. A phrase coined last night at the hearing was "demolition by neglect" and frankly if the seller now claims the building can't be repaired and restored at a realistic amount then he should look in the mirror at his failure to maintain the property and how his neglect has impacted the current costs to salvage the site in a creative way. Beyond the historic value of the site the prior city administration completed a comprehensive regional master plan intended to cover 2003-2020. I accept that some might argue that plan needs to be updated. But absent any updates there was a lot of time and money spent to develop this plan, absent the emotion of specific proposals, and it’s reasonable for the citizens if Indy to look to that plan for direction on downtown development. Specifically, page 19 of that plan set out specific new housing quantities by type indicating that new housing should consist of 4,400 market rate owner units (homes, townhouses or condos), 2,000 market rate rental units, 1,600 affordable units and 4,000 University student housing units on or near the IUPUI campus. While I don't yet have an exact count I doubt there are many honest and informed people, who are aware of downtown development, that would argue the ratio of 2.2 owner occupied properties are being built for every 1 market rate apartment unit that has been approved or is being built. I also strongly doubt that the ratio of affordable rental units is consistent with the plan goals and objectives. If apartment developers continue to try to take all of the prime downtown land then it’s a fair question to ask “where will we have places to build the owner occupied units?” There have been many studies done throughout the country that indicate the monumental negative impact on revenue and the tax base associated with apartments vs owner occupied development. The disposable income of apartment and affordable housing residents is much less than owner occupants. This also explains why the downtown retail, pub and restaurant development is not keeping up with the new housing construction. Bravo to the commission last night for sending the message that development of this site needs to be innovative and creative and needs to take every reasonable effort to salvage and incorporate the historical elements in a development that the neighbors in Mill 9 & 757 Mass Ave, and the rest of the neighborhood, can embrace and endorse.
        • Marion Bike Class
          Same Bill Browne -Marion Bike Class?
        • Love the tiny brick building.
          I've walked by that abandoned building so many times and have always loved it. Thinking the structure is unique and would make for a fun retail outlet/restaurant. Costs aside, I would hate to see it go. Especially when these condo projects popping up are big box with no architectural charm. If you have to tear it down, please build us something with substance and appreciation, because I've yet to see it in the mass construction of condo complexes.
        • LOL
          Having lived in NYC, waiting for a table in Indy is a walk in the country.
        • Sighs aside
          Mitch, thank you for the comments. Demolition by neglect is not acceptable, and this building is a great example. This owner spent a great deal of money renovating what is now Mesh, a building that contributes greatly to the neighborhood. It was long ago that the Mass Ave Pub building was severely damaged during the construction of the neighboring condos, yet it was repaired, saved, and again contributed greatly to the neighborhood. The commission's stance on this issue is not anti-development. It think it speaks greatly to the idea that we aren't going to teardown just because you want to build something new. Let's see what comes out of this.
        • Save the Building
          Many of us who have chosen to invest in and live in this historic district are concerned with preserving the history. The attitude to tear everything down is just wrong. This building could easily be turned into a coffee shop, small cafe, bakery, bike shop, etc. Something that will benefit the residents of the area. The owners claim of hardship is amusing in that they just sold their land across College to Milhaus to build additional apartments. Further contributing to the congestion and already critical parking issue in our neighborhood. Perhaps they could use those proceeds to get the building in a state that it could be sold.
        • Carmel?
          Need to keep the build and incorporate it in the new project. We do not need to look like a plastic Carmel Main Street with faux old buildings.
        • Nay to Demo
          This building is certainly not in danger of collapse, and maybe if the seller wasn't demanding huge money for the thing, on top of totally neglecting it for a decade now, a better proposal would surface. Far worse buildings have been saved along the avenue, including mine, at great expense, to allow this to happen. Cost effectiveness isn't supposed to be a reason for demolition in historic districts. He bought a contributing structure in a historic district and he knew what he was getting into. Not to mention that the Milhaus projects are among the ugliest, cheapest, tinkertoys ever to be built downtown. we dont need any more of them.
        • Historic Preservation?
          I am for preserving buildings worth saving that are substantial in size and have intricate detailing. There is nothing worth saving. There is nothing unique regarding the facade. it appears it has already been altered. I feel the IHP goes over board on preservation especially when the building has no significance. More housing is great for the City. The City keeps changing dramatically due to all the housing. More development will follow the housing boom. Why hold up a wonderful project for this.
        • Parking madness!
          65 parking spots? Stop building all these parking lots..stop the madness!!
        • parking
          2 parking spots per unit is REPULSIVE. So glad this joke of a project won't proceed.
        • So many empty lots...
          With so many empty lots and surface parking lots still undeveloped in the area, I am completely dumbfounded why Millhaus would brazenly suggest tearing down one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood. And to anyone who thinks that this building is unattractive and not worthy of saving, try actually walking around it and seeing it first hand. It's an interesting, complex, and unique structure with beautiful arched windows (try to look past the criminal degree of neglect shown to this property by its current owner and see the architecture and history). It's absolutely worth saving!
        • What Do Owners Occupied Units Have to Do With The IHPC Concerns
          Mitch, your concerns seem to be primarily focused on whether the new development should consist of condos versus apartments. The IHPC is only concerned with protecting the historic fabric of the neighborhood and when appropriate protecting structures that are of historic value. There is nothing in their stated concerns that goes to whether a residential development on that site should consist of owner-occupied condos versus rental apartments. A creative solution for salvaging parts of the building or the facade could certainly involve building market-rate rental units. So, I am not sure if you realize what you are saying "bravo" to.
        • Hiding behind IHPC
          The NIMBYism here is amazing. I'm really struggling to see how this building has any significance whatsoever to our city's history, yet people are rallying to 'save' it. If you believe that the neighborhood is overdeveloped or are concerned that it is developing in an unsustainable manner, then just say so. It is a legitimate concern and worth a debate. But please don't hide your true intentions behind the facade of saving this old heap of bricks.
          • Chris Take Note
            Because this project was proposed in a historic district, involves a historic building, and specifically would involve the demolition of that building... The IHPC will be deciding much more than just the historic elements as you infer. On the home page of the IHPC website it reads "The IHPC provides design and zoning review and approval for locally designated historic districts, conservation areas, and individually designated properties" Maybe you think zoning revue should not take into consideration how the property will be used but responsible zoning review definitely takes in to consideration the ultimate use, and any approval or disapproval I feel should certainly take in to consideration how the site will be used including things like owner occupied vs rentals vs affordable housing. I realize your perception is not unique and even the administrator of the IHPC would probably agree with you that the IHPC should not care what iteration of allowable zoning options is selected. But I think that is a naive approach especially if the goal is reach a conclusion, that the impacted community can embrace and support... So Chris perhaps we can agree to disagree regarding the relevance of if a site will be rental/owner or affordable. But your more perspective that the IHPC has a much more limited role I believe is not accurate. The entire reason the IHPC deals with broader issues, than you perceive, is to help insure decisions are not segmented or disconnected. With that in mind the reason a master plan exists is to insure these decisions don't and should not occur in a vacuum. Failure to be aware of the plan and or failure to allow the plan to guide rezoning and development efforts is from my perspective tragic and disappointing
          • No one can get a table?
            Please. Maybe during peak hours, but as someone who lives in the 'hood and frequent most of the bars and restaurants, I never have a problem getting in. Plus several additional pubs and restaurants are coming online in the next few months.

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