Latest plans for Mass Ave land swap hit snag

July 3, 2014
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The Indianapolis Fire Department is headed back to the drawing board in its quest to build a new credit union as part of a land-swap deal to clear the way for a $43 million apartment and retail development on Massachusetts Avenue.
swap credit union small
Its plans called for a new credit union with a drive-through to be constructed on part of the parking lot to the west of the existing Firefighter’s Union building at 748 Massachusetts Ave., near College Avenue.

As part of the project, the fire department also wants to build a two-story addition onto the east side of the union hall and construct a 31-space landscaped parking lot to the north at 658 E. St. Clair St., where a vacant lot fronts College Avenue.

(You can see renderings of the credit union and firefighters union hall by clicking the first and second images on this page, respectively. The third image is an  overhead view of all three projects.)

swap firhouse
                              union hall smallIFD presented the plans Wednesday evening to the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, which expressed concerns about the drive-through and the construction of a parking lot on such a high-profile piece of land. After some debate, the commission took no action on the department's request, which seeks zoning variances. (The union owns the land on which the credit union would be located.)

“This is a considerably significant intersection, and we’re going to see a parking lot—something that in my heart of hearts, and as a practicing landscape architect, we try to avoid doing,” IHPC member Diana Brenner said.

The fire department’s filing said the credit union's drive-through would be integrated into the building and have a brick “knee wall” on the property's west side to help screen the drive-through from the adjacent homes to the west.
swap overhead view small
Indianapolis-based Lamson & Condon Inc. is the architect for the credit union building, which would be two stories and constructed entirely of brick with stone accents.

Entheos Architects, also of Indianapolis, designed the two-story addition to the firefighters' union building.

The credit union operates independently of the fire department and, unlike the department, owns the property on which its current building sits at 501 N. New Jersey St., adjacent to IFD’s headquarters at 555 N. New Jersey St..

The deal calls for the credit union to transfer ownership of its property to the city in exchange for the construction of the new credit union. IFD would take over the local headquarters of the American Red Cross at 441 E. 10th St.—about four blocks from the existing IFD complex at the intersection of Massachusetts, and North New Jersey and East North streets.

The jockeying ultimately sets up construction of a five-story project with about 235 apartments and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on the 1.45-acre Mass Ave site to be vacated by the fire department headquarters and credit union.

City officials say the project, which will receive TIF revenue, will connect sections of Mass Ave and attract an influx of new residents.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross is building a new headquarters at the former home of the Payton Wells car dealership at 1510 N. Meridian St.

  • Profound misuse of space
    This project, as proposed, constituted a profound and creative waste of space at one of the few remaining intersections with heavy foot traffic. Well done IHCP, you took a big step in solidifying the mediocrity of downtown Indy. Can you imagine this intersection, which should have nothing but restaurants, bars, and high-density residences, instead having another surface parking lot and a bank with a drive-thru? And for those of you who want to point to the IPS bus lot, we all know that will be gone in 5 years.
    I meant that IHCP took a big step AWAY FROM keeping downtown mediocre
  • This is a Joke, Right?
    In the middle of, arguably, the most pedestrian friendly live, work, play "neighborhood" of Indianapolis this is the site plan they're proposing. Everything about this plan should be scrapped. Why on earth does Mass Ave need a standalone credit union building with a drive through? Surrounded by surface parking and asphalt? Why would the prominent lot at the corner of St. Clair, College, and Mass Ave be a good spot for a large asphalt parking lot? This design feels suburban; and yes I mean that in every possible negative way you can imagine. Not a single portion of it deserves to be a part of the ongoing revitalization and buildout of Mass Ave and city should simply stamp all submissions with a big, bold, "try again."
  • What exactly is Red Cross land for?
    I thought the reason the city (read: taxpayers) were getting all the Red Cross land for the IFD was so they could move their existing stuff (Fire Station, HQ, Union, Bank) from Mass and Michigan to the Red Cross. Why the hell would a drive-thru bank belong at the highest-profile site that remains downtown? Why are we building new union offices along Mass while old union offices are being turned into bars/restaurants (Union 50 which just opened)???
  • Bank drive thrus
    I truly do not understand the need for banks to have a drive thru anywhere, let alone in the most urban part of Indianapolis. Are people THAT lazy that they cannot get out of their car to deposit or withdraw money? Bravo to the IHCP for having a spine and standing up to this.
    • neighborhood
      The neighborhood strongly supports this project and at a neighborhood meeting, where as everyone knows supporters don't turn out, they voted 2-1 in favor. It provides for excellent infill of an existing parking lot on Mass Ave with a beautiful building, a new parking lot behind that looks like the Historic Pres Society lot on Central, and a wonderful community gathering space at the corner. And clears way for a huge infill project on 500 block of Mass Ave. Stop with the knee-jerk uninformed reactions.
    • Correction
      IFD didn't present anything at all - the Firefighters Union presented this in conjunction with the Firefighters Credit Union, which is a separate entity. The city does not own the land along Mass Ave where the proposed Credit Union would be built or the lot at the intersection of Mass, St. Clair and College. Those are both owned by the Firefighters Union. The site where the credit union would go is currently a parking lot, so the union would actually be giving up surface parking to put a building along Mass Ave.
    • Not Lazy
      Maria, drive up teller windows and ATM machines are not about laziness but safety and convenience. Studies show people are much less likely to be robbed at an ATM if it is a drive-up ATM. Also, think about parents with young children. The hassle of having to bring children into a bank to make a simple deposit can be too much (and may lead people to leave children unattended in a vehicle). Finally, for some people (disabled or elderly) the drive-up is a much more easier alternative. Maybe you should think of others instead of yourself while making such a comment.
    • No drive-thru
      I agree with what most everyone has said here. A proposal with a drive-thru anything is tone deaf to the direction this area is moving. This is not a safety issue — and the best course of action if safety is your main concern is creating a corridor that promotes food traffic. A drive-thru credit union doesn't accomplish that. (Not that I have concerns about being mugged on Mass ANYWAY.) This project can really serve as a connector for a vibrant, dynamic Mass Ave. I really hope whatever they approve serves this end.
      • Typo
        **Foot traffic, haha. But FOOD traffic also! :)
      • Against the parking lot
        The parcel of land presently designated as 'new off-street parking' is truly saddening. This piece of land has so much potential and turning it from an unruly vacant lot to a parking lot would destroy opportunities to connect the vibrant part of Mass Ave with the burgeoning section to the northeast of this intersection. Also, Big Larry, is there any particular insight you have for saying that the IPS parking lot will go away in five years? I'm intrigued.
      • Thoughts
        Larry's comment about the IPS parking lot being moved in 5 years is probably a good bet. It is the last big piece of land that could be developed into something along Mass Ave and the development has already started up that way (R Bistro, Black Market, etc.). It is only logical to fill that space in. As for the drive thru, this is a horrible idea and if someone is worried about getting robbed on Mass Ave, you need to get out more because it is probably one of the safiest spots in the downtown area.
      • Geeze
        Where exactly do y'all want people to park? If you keep building things, you also need to have parking. (Or good public transportation, but I'm not holding my breath on that.) We can't all afford to live on Mass Ave, but I'd like to be able to enjoy shopping and eating there. If there's no parking though, people will go elsewhere.
      • More whine with your cheese?
        Again we have the backyard architects and closet building owners coming out to attack a design that really works in an urban location. Sure, they are wanting to replace an empty, weed filled lot with a parking lot. Exactly how long do you think that parking lot will remain? If it is as truly high profile as you say, a developer will come in and replace it with something else and replace the parking with something more urban. Most of the "banks" customers will be firemen. With no fire station within 4 blocks, most of the customers will drive here. would you rather put in more surface parking or a fairly well disguised drive thru. I think they should go a step further and enclose the drive thru to make it even more "bay-like". Otherwise they have gone out of their way to bring a great design(mimics old fire stations in most big cities) and keeping jobs with the union hall and the credit union downtown so those folks can live, work and play there as well. Good to see the neighbors are on board and I hope the IHPC gets on board as well.
      • Not the right location?
        It's fine for the credit union to want a drive-through and surface parking lot, but this just isn't the right location for it. If they believe that they need development amenities that aren't consistent with a vibrant downtown neighborhood full of pedestrians and bicyclists, maybe they should look at a site outside of the downtown core, like the police have for their credit union and union hall.
        • Build It!
          Fully agree with "Indyman". BTW: people forget that this is apart of a larger deal which will benefit the ave as a whole. Compromise or feel free to write a check to IFD and the credit union and build what "you" would like.
        • RE: Geeze
          You can park in any of the other thousands of spaces downtown. Walk a bit. Just because you are going to Mass Ave. doesn't mean you have to be able to park directly on Mass Ave. GEEZE! It sure is hard walking a couple of blocks.
        • location
          You are all arguing about a false choice - the Union isn't going to build anything there if this doesn't work out. They are just going to keep their parking lot, which is directly on Mass Ave. It's not a choice between the bank and some imaginary "appropriate" building. It's a choice between continuing to have a parking lot directly on Mass Ave and having a building built there. The credit union *already has* a building on Mass with a drive through and surface parking. They are being forced to move from land they own and have proposed a nice looking building that would replace a parking lot and you want to banish them to somewhere like East Washington? Give me a break.
        • Architectural legacy
          Bravo to the design of this building. They are designing something that would blend nicely with the other existing buildings along the avenue and the design ties in nicely to the historic nature of old fire stations. Timeless, classic, historic and designed and built to last a long time and not look dated. This design is more of what downtown needs. This current movement of cheap-looking "modern" apartments with fiber cement panels does nothing in creating neighborhoods with a unique sense of place. These modern buildings look disposable, bland and uninspiring. Props to the architects on designing this project. By the way, who are the architects for this? P.S. I understand the negative comments about the functionality and drive-thru, but I simply wanted to comment on the architectural design.
        • Concur on excellent design
          The design absolutely looked great. The concerns were just about the tragic misuse of the land. Not only a drive-thru bank, but particularly the decision to waste the square lot at St. Clair and College on another surface parking lot.
        • sea of parking
          the commenter that mentioned the drive thru bank building a sea of parking clearly doesn't realize he parking lot is already there....they're actually taking away spaces to build the credit the drive thru I think is a bad idea.....and I also agree that the surface lot on St Clair is dumb....
        • Bad Idea
          The surface parking on College is a bad idea. The heart of what makes angled streets special is the buildings that enclose complicated intersections. They are the hardest to accomplish due to economics of the irregular buildings, but they are worth it if you care about the form of your city. It's much more important than arguing over ye old brick vs. hardi panel arguments.
        • Ibj
          IBJ, please post further renderings of design of community gathering place at corner of mass and college, and parking. Both are wonderful and readers deserve to see how the firefighters have made a strong effort to do good by the neighborhood and mass ave.
        • Eddie
          Those of you who live in this area have this elitist attitude about an institution vital to the hero's of this community. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Have you seen the original design the city proposed for the lot the credit union owns-- I repeat OWNS. It looks like a cheap mock-up of Times Square. So much for keeping with the "historical" aspect. Those who oppose the relocation are probably excited about the squeeze the city is putting on the low income residents between Mass & Michigan st.. What about those people? Get a grip you high brow Hippocrites
        • Spectacular Neighborhood
          Unless you live in or have ever lived in Chatham Arch you cannot begin to understand what a special place it is. The relocation of Firefighter Credit Union is necessary for the further development of Mass Ave, but at the expense of what. A parking lot no matter how beautiful is still a piece of property that fails to get developed for the betterment of the neighborhood. I believe that the city has failed to come up with a solution that would keep the neighborhood from dealing with this problem. Firefighters have been good for CA, but this is a bad decision. Winning at all cost is not really winning. Firefighters step back and realize this even a bad idea for you.
        • Why not have the CU with the new fire station?
          Since the CU seems to have oprrated quite well adajcent to the current fire station,why doesn't it just move to the Red Cross land with the station? A drive thru might, I repeat might, be a better fit there. It most certainly is not an appropriate choice in the midst of a block densely populated with commercial and residential development, a narrow street, and significant congestion already. People also nned to consider this development in the context of everything else happening right around it (all of the enw apartments on College going up right now, the proposed replacement of the Mesh parking lot with another apartment building, etc.) in terms of their combined impact on traffic flow, pedestrian safety, parking, etc. Yes, people can walk a few blocks to get to a parking space, but those spaces even a few blocks away are getting harder and harder to find on a daily basis during peak periods.
        • Parking, meh...
          It's time to bring back horses for travel so we can tie them up to the hooks along Mass Ave. That will show those pesky drivers who want to park along our street!
        • Faux History
          Walt Disney, your bank is ready, Walt, your bank is ready. Please do not ruffle Main Street.

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