City gives cultural trail green light: Long-anticipated project could cost $35M to $42M

The long-discussed trail will loop through downtown and cost $35 million to $42 million. All the money will come from federal transportation dollars and private contributions.

“The trail has been officially approved,” said Brian Payne, president of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the project’s lead managing partner. “It’s definitely a project that’s going to happen now.”

Tourism officials greeted the news with enthusiasm.

It’s a “huge win for White River State Park as well as the city,” said Bob Whitt, the park’s executive director.

It took two traffic studies and almost four years to get the mayor’s approval for the entire project.

“You can’t mess with city streets unless the mayor says it’s OK that you can mess with city streets,” Payne said.

By June, organizers hope to release a final route for the seven-mile path, which will follow a combination of existing streets, sidewalks and parking lanes and be separated from traffic by a barrier.

In September, organizers will host a big public launch. Construction will begin next summer. If all goes as planned, the trail could be ready by the summer of 2009. At the latest, it’ll be unveiled by the time the men’s college basketball Final Four returns in 2010.

The trail, which will be accessible to everybody from bicyclists and walkers to roller- bladers and skateboarders, will connect the five downtown cultural districts-Mass Ave, Indiana Avenue, White River State Park, the Wholesale District and Fountain Square. The trail will also hit the new library, IUPUI and City Market, and a spur will connect to the southern end of the Monon Trail, which will in turn connect the path to the city’s sixth cultural district-Broad Ripple Village-and to the north side.

“It’ll be near all the major cultural amenities and venues,” Payne said, such as the Artsgarden and Hilbert Circle Theatre.

That is, all the existing venues. Lucas Oil Stadium won’t be on the route.

“When we started on this project four years ago, there wasn’t a new stadium,” Payne said. He hopes to find additional funding to extend the path toward the Colts’ new home.

Payne already has raised roughly half the project’s final budget, including $14 million in federal transportation grants and $4 million in private donations. The private contributions include $1 million gifts from the Indianapolis-based Efroymson Fund and one other anonymous donor. The Indianapolis-based Nina Mason Pulliam Trust has kicked in $500,000 and the Indianapolis Foundation $250,000.

Payne said he’d look to “individuals, corporations and foundations” to round out the project’s budget.

Construction of the trail is expected to cost in the low to mid-$20 million range. The rest of the budget will be used for design elements.

Although Peterson supports the project, the city won’t kick in a nickel for construction. It might establish a $5 million endowment to support maintenance.

Organizers last month used the money they’ve raised to hire engineers, designers and a public relations team.

Rundell Ernstberger Associates LLC, which has offices in Indianapolis and Muncie, and designed the Monon Trail, will be responsible for the trail’s visual appearance.

The firm faces a mountain of expectations.

“The idea of this is that we create really a world class … an internationally significant and unique project that puts Indianapolis on the map, both nationally and internationally, when it comes to quality of life and urban design innovation,” Payne said.

Kevin Osburn, a principal at Rundell Ernstberger who will be lead designer, looks forward to the challenge.

“This is the kind of project you wait your whole career for,” Osburn said. “A very clear vision has been laid out by Brian Payne and the city. They want [the trail] to be a world-class facility that essentially becomes an icon for Indianapolis.”

While Osburn said it’s too early to say what the trail will look like, he said the firm’s successful pitch included keywords like safe, enduring, animated and inspiring. He needs to complete a first draft of the design by the end of the summer. The firm will solicit public input at some point.

But while it’s unclear what the aesthetic look of the trail will be, Payne can already describe some of the functional components. It won’t require new bridges or tunnels around intersections. Kiosks will also be placed near cultural attractions and will display relevant tourist information.

Indianapolis-based R.W. Armstrong & Associates Inc., which specializes in transportation and site development and has won awards for its work on interstates 69 and 70, will engineer the trail.

That means it also gets to deal with what’s been the project’s biggest challenge: traffic. Putting a seven-mile trail in the middle of any urban area is a tough feat, especially in a commuter downtown.

R.W. Armstrong is confident the route will have minimal impact on commuters.

“They’re trying to minimize the impact by placing the route in an area that is not crucial for a.m. and p.m. [traffic], but is still within the downtown area,” said Melody Park, a program manager at R.W. Armstrong.

Public input from citizens and the business community has been uniformly positive so far, which is unusual for a public project, Deputy Mayor Jane Henegar said.

“That was a great concern of the mayor’s,” she said. “You don’t want to create one amenity and have it negatively impact another amenity.”

Payne touts the trail as an economic development tool, saying it’ll pump money into the cash registers of local businesses.

“Businesses [along the path] will see increased revenues,” he said.

The Monon Trail, for example, has been good for businesses in Broad Ripple.

“It definitely brings in business,” said an employee at Monon Coffee Co., just off the trail. “You get a lot of people who run or walk or roller-blade coming in.”

Property values, as well, are likely to increase.

“Higher property values are correlated to proximity [to trails],” said Greg Lindsey, an associate dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI who has studied five of Indiana’s greenways.

Homes near greenways are, on average, worth 10 percent more, he concluded in a study he wrote that was published by the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at IUPUI.

What remains to be seen, Lindsey said, is whether the trail will help the state fight its obesity problem. While Payne argues the trail will be a “community health” and “anti-obesity” tool, Lindsey said the jury is out on that question.

It’s not clear to academic researchers whether the 600,000 people who cruise the Monon Trail on an annual basis would otherwise just be walking neighborhood sidewalks or riding their bikes elsewhere.

Borshoff Johnson Matthews, Indianapolis’ largest public relations firm, will handle media relations.

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