‘Placemaking’ finds champion: CICF to invest millions into quality-of-life enhancement

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Central Indiana Community Foundation is making a multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitment to help find ways to make Hoosiers’ habitat a home.

The Inspiring Places initiative, which is to be unveiled to foundation stakeholders March 22-23, aims to improve the region’s quality of life by rallying around the idea that vibrant public spaces create vibrant communities.

But more than warm feelings are at stake, said CICF President and CEO Brian Payne.

“More and more, a city’s economic development success revolves around its ability to attract highly educated, creative, innovative people,” he said. “People can live anywhere … [so] if Indianapolis is going to thrive into the future, we have to create a place where they want to live.”

Enter CICF, which is approaching its 10th anniversary with a renewed sense of purpose.

A year after narrowing its focus to just three tasks-making grants, engaging donors and leading change-one is still a work in progress.

“We figured out what our passion is as an organization: the transformative power of philanthropy,” Payne explained. “Now we need to take that and apply it to our community leadership efforts. We need to package it in a way people can understand and be part of.”

Inspiring Places is the first such package.

Over the next five years, CICF will champion “placemaking” projects that may enhance quality of life in central Indiana, connect various entities that could move those ideas forward, and contribute some if its own resources to make sure that happens.

An early example is the proposed Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a project Payne has worked on for years. Plans call for a center-city pedestrian and bicycle path that would link the city’s six cultural districts-many in historic neighborhoods-and connect with the existing greenway trail system.

CICF got involved as the project gained steam. The foundation now serves as its fiscal agent and chief fund-raiser, Payne said, and its various funds have invested $2.5 million so far.

“We’re building where there’s already some strength,” Payne said. “We’re not saying, ‘There’s nothing here; let’s create something.’ This idea wouldn’t make sense if we didn’t already have the cultural districts and a great downtown.”

The notion of creating compelling places also is a component of the Indianapolis Regional Center Plan; Payne and former White River State Park Director Peggy Boehm co-chaired its placemaking committee.

To Boehm’s way of thinking, the CICF initiative is a logical outgrowth of that effort, which was heavy on possibilities and light on promises.

“It’s wonderful,” enthused Boehm, an independent consultant. “It appears that they are taking some of those ideas and ramping up the chances that the plan will become reality.”

By definition, the Regional Center Plan focused on downtown Indianapolis. CICF’s efforts will be broader, Payne said-likely even beyond its traditional service areas of Marion and Hamilton counties.

The more, the merrier, Boehm said.

“It is still the same basic goal: causing there to be some really nice places in central Indiana,” she said. “I applaud them for doing that. They have the resources to help make the community better. It seems like a really positive thing.”

It certainly can’t hurt, said Indianapolis Downtown Inc. President Tamara Zahn.

“CICF will continue to shine a spotlight on the topic, to raise the level of awareness,” she said, “and hopefully inspire additional collaborations.”

“It brings awareness to the idea that places really do matter,” concurred Scott Truex, a Ball State University architecture professor and senior fellow at the Indianapolis-based Sagamore Institute for Policy Research. “It elevates the conversation, legitimizes it when [a group like CICF] recognizes the value.”

That’s the idea, Payne said.

“We think we’re in position to really play that leadership role,” he asserted. “We can be a credible voice about how important this is to a community. We have the ability to be heard in certain circles.”

If money talks, CICF is practically shouting.

Formed in 1997 as a partnership between Indianapolis Foundation and Legacy Fund of Hamilton County, the umbrella organization now manages hundreds of funds that distribute more than $20 million in grants each year.

At the end of 2004, its pooled assets were worth $485 million.

CICF narrowed its scope last year to be more efficient. At the same time, leaders ramped up efforts to inspire others to be philanthropic. The result-$44.3 million in contributions in 2004, compared with $19.8 million the year before.

“We understand what we do better,” Payne said, explaining the increase. “We couldn’t articulate it very well in the past. We were all over the place. … If you do everything, people can’t comprehend it all.”

Within the next decade, CICF wants to double annual grants to the community-an accomplishment that will mean essentially doubling the asset base.

“That’s a very ambitious goal,” United Way of Central Indiana President Ellen Annala told IBJ last year. But it’s also doable. “There is so much competition for charitable dollars-the better you can define what you do, the better opportunity you have to match that with the philanthropic goals of the donor.”

With that work under way, Payne and other CICF leaders want Inspiring Places to move the foundation forward in a different way. Progress on that front may not be as obvious.

“Our measure of success will be whether we created a mechanism so when someone says, ‘How can I help?’ we can channel that passion and they can make an impact,” Payne said. “We’re connecting people to ideas and opportunity.”

For now, that’s enough.

How the initiative will evolve is anyone’s guess. And that’s OK, observers said.

“In my opinion, the most effective notfor-profits are not only efficient at distributing funds,” said Gordon Wishard, an Ice Miller attorney who handles estate planning and is a member of CICF’s Professional Advisor Leadership Council. “They are also proficient at examining their own modus operandi. They do selfevaluations.

“Circumstances change. Community needs change. Not-for-profits have to change, too.”

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