Cancer society scouts Clarian property for development: Former retirement home may serve as a Hope Lodge

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An empty retirement home near Methodist Hospital may turn into a lodge that gives cancer patients a place to rest while they receive treatment in Indianapolis.

The American Cancer Society is talking with Clarian Health Partners about planting a Hope Lodge on the site of the former Indianapolis Retirement Home, which sits across from Methodist on busy North Capitol Avenue.

The cancer society operates 23 of these lodges in several states, but this would be the first Indiana location, according to Leslie Babione, communications director for its Great Lakes division, which covers Indiana and Michigan. Ohio and Tennessee are among the nearby states that house them.

Babione said discussions are in a very early stage. She had no information on the number of rooms or the features the lodge might have. The cancer society hasn’t even decided whether it wants to renovate the retirement home or build something new on the plot of land.

“The details on size and all that are still under discussion,” she said. “There haven’t been any decisions finalized.”

Clarian paid $800,000 to buy the twostory brick home in November 2003, a couple of months after the last resident moved out, according to the Center Township Assessor’s Office.

The retirement home dated back to the 1860s, but heavy financial losses and an aging building forced its board of directors to turn out the lights.

The building, which was constructed in 1958, also needed substantial updates to remain open, said Sue Patterson, former chairwoman of the home’s board.

The 37,000-square-foot building has no central air-conditioning and only one elevator, which made it difficult to move residents to different activities. The cost of updates was “way too far out of reach” for the home, Patterson said, adding the board also saw a trend away from placing people in retirement homes.

The board closed the home and established an $11 million endowment with plans to offer annual grants to groups or organizations that assist the elderly. Patterson said the not-for-profit just completed its second grant cycle.

Clarian took its time deciding the site’s future after making the purchase. The building has remained empty since the fall of 2003. The lawns have been maintained, but weeds are starting to sprout from cracks in the property’s sidewalk while sticks and leaves are scattered throughout the home’s back-yard walking paths.

“Because of where it is, we wanted to ensure that we’re using it and it aligns well with our long-range planning,” Clarian spokesman Jon Mills said. “It’s obviously a strategic position, a great piece of real estate for us to have.”

The presence of Hope Lodge would be “very beneficial,” Mills added. Last year, Clarian’s three downtown hospitals-Methodist, IU and Riley Hospital for Children-treated 5,704 cancer patients.

In addition, IU Hospital plans to boost its cancer treatment with an oncology expansion that wraps around part of the hospital and connects to the nearby Cancer Pavilion. The latest plans filed with the city call for a seven-story addition measuring 408,914 square feet. Mills said Clarian should break ground on that project later this summer.

The Hope Lodge would not be limited to caring for Clarian cancer patients, Babione said. In fact, one of the reasons the cancer society likes the retirement home site is its central location, which can serve patients who receive treatment in all corners of the city.

The lodges provide a free, temporary home for patients receiving outpatient treatment like chemotherapy, or for family members visiting people undergoing in-patient care.

The Indianapolis location would house only adult patients or their family, Babione said, to avoid duplicating services already provided by the Ronald McDonald House of Indiana.

The lodges feature a “home-like” atmosphere that includes private rooms, kitchens and transportation to treatments at some locations, according to the cancer society’s Web site.

“It’s a nice home-healing environment because when they’re undergoing treatments all day, they like to have a place to stay that’s comforting,” Babione said.

Even though Babione stressed that talks regarding the retirement site are preliminary, she called it a “great possibility.” She said the cancer society was not considering other sites at this time.

Indianapolis Retirement Home has remained vacant since 2003.

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