Cook promises Old Centrum work will be done by year-end

April 13, 2010

Bill Cook decided to make Old Centrum his next big project after attending a private recital in the former church sanctuary last summer.

Cook and his wife Gayle were among a group of about 10 people invited to hear Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians Geoff Lapin and Zach DePue, along with philanthropist and pianist Marianne Tobias, perform—and show off the building's acoustics.

"I thought this was too good to pass up as a historic preservation," Cook said Tuesday. "There's so many things you can do with this place."

Cook announced Tuesday that he will fund and manage the renovation of the former Central Avenue United Methodist Church, turning it into a place for concerts, cultural events and weddings. Cook, the founder of Bloomington medical-equipment maker Cook Group Inc., is also a renowned preservationist. The Cooks and their son Carl Cook have pledged at least $7 million toward the Old Centrum renovation.

Their exclusive architect George Ridgway and construction manager Pritchett Brothers—the same team that renovated the West Baden Springs Hotel—are already working on the project. Cook said Tuesday that it will be finished by year-end.

Before stepping to the podium, he pointed out the sound quality of the wood-paneled atrium, which features a stage and second-floor balcony leading to former Sunday school classrooms. The room will become Cook Hall, and the former sanctuary will be named the Cook Grand Theatre.

The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana hopes to move its headquarters from the Central Canal downtown into a 1922 addition to the building, but first it has to raise $2 million to $3 million. For 20 years, the foundation has had its Indianapolis offices along the Central Canal in the 1879 Charles J. Kuhn House and a modern addition.

IBJ first reported the planned restoration and possible foundation relocation in February.

Also Tuesday, the foundation announced that it will change its name to Indiana Landmarks, and Old Centrum will be called the Indiana Landmarks Center. Cook has been involved with the organization since 1976. "I wanted them to have a higher visibility in Indianapolis and actually show what you can do with historic preservation," he said.

Lapin, a cellist who lives in the Old Northside neighborhood, said he helped organize the recital along with Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis. The informal gathering was dubbed "a night in the Hoosier tropics" because of the lack of air-conditioning. Lapin said they made sure to include a performance by a brass quartet because Cook is fond of brass music.

Old Centrum, built in 1892, has been closed since 2008, when its former owner, the Old Centrum Foundation, could no longer keep up with the necessary maintenance. Former Indiana first lady Judy O'Bannon, a member of the former church and Old Centrum Foundation board member, attended Tuesday's announcement, as did several people who grew up in the church.

Carol Roe, who was a member of the church for 25 years, publicly thanked Cook for backing the restoration. "Mr. Cook, I didn't know who you were, but from the bottom of my heart, I thank you," she said.

Founded in 1960, Indiana Landmarks is the largest private statewide preservation group in the United States. It has a staff of 42 in 10 offices around the state.


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