Trustee inches toward redeveloping property portfolio

Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer and his predecessors have stockpiled more than money over the years. The trustee’s office also holds a portfolio of mostly undeveloped properties worth at least $10 million.

Several key parcels have been on the trustee’s books—and off the tax rolls—for decades.

Drummer has made some progress in finding uses for the properties since an IBJ special report first questioned his holdings in November 2006. But it would have to be measured in inches.

The most significant movement involves the so-called Career Development Institute at 875 Massachusetts Ave., next door to the trustee’s headquarters. It is considered prime property, given Mass Ave’s recent emergence as a trendy retail corridor.

Drummer uses a portion of the one-story building for storage and a small aid office, despite vacant space available in the headquarters.

Now plans are moving forward to lease the property to the Riley Area Development Corp., which would raze the career center and construct a $9 million, four-story, mixed-use building in its place. Indianapolis-based developer Monument Properties is collaborating on the project.

Riley Executive Director Bill Gray envisions a basement community center or classroom, about 25,000 square feet of first-floor retail space divided among several tenants, and 75 apartments on the upper floors—62 of which would be reserved for low-income occupants.

Drummer said he’s been talking with Riley about finding a better use for the property for six years.

To fund the project, Gray is seeking low-income tax credits and affordable-housing loans from the federal government. If financing is approved, he hopes to pursue an aggressive construction schedule that would see residents moving in by March 2010.

Gray expects to formally present his plans to the Center Township board this month.

"I think we’ve done our due diligence and homework, worked with the community and trustee," Gray said. "Now it’s just a process of putting grants together and seeing if they’re good enough to be awarded tax credits. And if they’re not enough, we don’t do the deal."

Gray said he should know by June whether financing is available for the project this year. If not, he said, Riley will try again next year.

Drummer said he’s also had discussions with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis about building another facility behind the Riley building. The YMCA already operates a downtown branch in the Athenaeum at 401 E. Michigan St.

YMCA spokeswoman Tangela Floyd said the YMCA hopes to eventually expand its downtown services, but she said it has no project on the table nor has it begun any discussions about one.

Drummer also has discussed the possibility of erecting affordable housing on a number of empty residential lots the trustee’s office owns near the Julia M. Carson Government Center on Fall Creek Parkway. They were acquired in 1994 as part of a $3 million deal to buy the building that became the Carson Center, now occupied by leased offices, a KeyBank branch and the 300 East restaurant.

Jackie Nytes, a Democratic city-county councilor and executive director of the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corp., confirmed a handful of preliminary discussions with Drummer.

Nytes has high hopes that the talks eventually will result in new homes and perhaps a senior citizens center. But she characterized all activity as "early." Nytes has just begun seeking community support.

"There’s a few people who care about this neighborhood, and we’d certainly like to bring them to the table," she said. "We’re going to keep working with Carl. I think it’s got good potential. I think he’s really interested in making something happen."

Drummer clearly views Riley and Mapleton Fall Creek as the drivers of redevelopment.

"I could have sold this building, or redid this building or did whatever … a long time ago. But being a good neighbor and understanding the dramatics of what needs to happen on this end of Mass Avenue and also for the clients that I serve, we sat back," Drummer said. "Where are we today? We’re probably pretty close to some type of agreement."

The other major trustee’s office holding is unchanged since 2006. The former Fall Creek YMCA, which Drummer bought for $1.5 million in 2004, is leased to the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, which operates a fee-based fitness center there. Drummer said 15-bed transition housing is available in the old YMCA dorms.

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