A $20 million improvement of West 38th Street between Guion and High School roads that is set to begin next month is the first in a series of initiatives that stakeholders hope will revive the real estate fortunes of the area anchored by Lafayette Square Mall.
The road project, 80 percent of which is to be federally funded, will be finished in the fall of 2011. It includes resurfacing the thoroughfare, improved pedestrian crosswalks and adding a landscaped median, all of which is consistent with the goals of the newly adopted Lafayette Square Area Plan.
The plan, developed for the Lafayette Square Area Coalition by locally based firm R.W. Armstrong, was adopted by the coalition May 18. It calls for rebranding the area the International Marketplace to capitalize on an influx of independent, ethnic businesses in recent years.
But the plan’s goals go much deeper than simply rebranding the area. It calls for transportation improvements beyond the work about to begin on 38th Street. Those include improving existing roads and building new ones, better synchronization of traffic signals, better accommodations for bicycles and public transportation and eliminating barriers between retail properties that impede traffic flow for shoppers.
The newly adopted plan also encourages mixed-use development, calls for attracting more office and medical tenants to the area and recommends adopting design standards to guide future development,.
The plan recommends repositioning obsolete properties in the area using $11 million in municipal bond proceeds. The bonds would be backed by Community Revitalization Enhancement District funds, which are available thanks to the city’s decision in 2004 to make the area a redevelopment district. The CRED designation allows the capture and reinvestment of up to $750,000 a year in sales taxes between 2009 and 2024.
Bill French, a senior vice president at Cassidy Turley who specializes in retail property, thinks the plan and the coalition, a five-year-old group of area business and real estate interests, are going to make a big difference in the area.
French said the area has evolved from a first-tier retail trade market to a second- or third-tier market as retail tenants have left over the last two decades. A big-box space that might have commanded $8 to $15 a square foot is now going for $4 and up. He said traffic improvements and more realistic pricing should help backfill properties that are still viable.
One property that is back from the brink is Pike Plaza at Lafayette and Pike Plaza roads. The shopping center, purchased last year from a lender by local investor Brent Benge and partners, was mostly vacant after losing a Galyan’s sporting goods store and Value City Department Store. But the space has since been filled by Guanajuato, a Mexican supermarket, and The Venue, a 66,000-square-foot space that opened last week to host concerts, meetings, wedding receptions and other events.
The Venue can accommodate up to 4,100 people but also offers smaller meeting rooms. It’s owned by Benge, Noblesville event planner Sharon Brown and their partners Ray Henderson and John Schaeffer, owner of IndyPro Audio, which moved to Pike Plaza from another Lafayette Road address. Russ Dodge, a former radio station executive, is marketing The Venue for its owners.
Several smaller groups are booked,a gospel concert is coming in June and a Corvette show is on the schedule for July. Raju Chinthala, who is active in the Lafayette Square Area coalition and is president of the India Association of Indiana, is considering hosting meetings there.
Chinthala, who rents a nearby movie complex to show newly released Indian movies, is upbeat about the area’s future. “There are a lot of things happening out here now.”