16 Park project helping to transform Indianapolis neighborhood

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A multimillion-dollar renovation of a blighted apartment complex under way on Indianapolis’ near-north side could help transform the neighborhood by attracting more commercial activity.

The project, called 16 Park, is replacing the former Caravelle Commons north of East 16th Street between Central and College avenues, and is set to be completed in the fall of 2012.

Caravelle Commons is a 65-unit, low-income-housing property built in 1975. The seven-acre property has become a magnet for crime, with dead-end streets and fenced-in apartment homes surrounding crowded parking lots. But the Indianapolis Housing Agency is betting its $34 million investment will jump-start more interest in the area.

“We really think this is a transformational development that’s really going to change that part of the neighborhood and that part of the city,” said Bruce Baird, IHA’s director of strategic planning and development.

Baird hopes additional redevelopment could stretch east of College Avenue and also better connect with the Herron Morton Place neighborhood in which 16 Park is located.

IHA bought the complex in March 2009 from the Near North Development Corp., which took over the Caravelle not-for-profit complex in 2003. Near North stepped in to refinance, renovate and stabilize the property with an eye toward eventually selling it to a more appropriate owner.

Plans call for demolishing Caravelle Commons in stages. Construction on the first of 11 new residential buildings is under way and should be finished by August, Baird said.

That building is being constructed on vacant land at College and Park avenues. Once complete, tenants of one of the existing buildings will move in, and demolition will begin on the vacated structure. The new buildings will be built in stages, allowing tenants to transition to their new homes without being displaced.

When finished, the entire project will consist of 155 new housing units, more than double the current number.

The finished product will be more “urban looking,” said Baird, who has described Caravelle Commons as a typical 1970s urban renewal project that doesn’t fit within the neighborhood.

IHA also purchased out of foreclosure the former School 27 building, which is next to the 16 Park neighborhood. The main floor will be dedicated to community services, making meeting space, classrooms and computer labs available to residents.

Perhaps most important for residents is any commercial activity the project might attract, and in particular the long-awaited plans for a renovated Kroger grocery store on East 16th Street.

Neighborhood leaders hope the company will commit to the area, though no specifics have been announced.

“I think 16 Park will be a great motivator for Kroger to move forward,” said Janine Betsey, executive director of the King Park Area Development Corp. “Having $34 million of investment is not too shabby.”

IHA is mostly financing the 16 Park project with nearly $28 million in federal and state tax credits and another $4.4 million in federal stimulus funds. The housing agency used a grant of about $400,000 from a city housing trust fund to acquire the property and begin drawing up plans for redevelopment.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority administers the federal program that awards tax credits to developers to renovate, acquire or construct affordable rental units. A dollar-for-dollar credit provides an incentive for private developers and investors to provide low-income housing. By reducing a developer’s federal tax liability, or by selling tax credits to investors, the program can help cut the cost of development.

Lugar Towers

IHA also is using tax credits to help fund another of its larger projects, the $30.8 million renovation of Lugar Towers at 901 Fort Wayne Ave. downtown.

The 15-story apartment building with 224 units was built in 1974 and has undergone minor renovations in 1994 and 2001.

The renovation to the tower and the construction of two buildings containing a total of 74 units at the tower’s base should be finished late next year. Construction on the new complexes should begin by the end of June.

The Lugar Tower project is being co-developed by IHA and Flaherty & Collins Properties, and is being designed by Memphis, Tenn.-based Looney Ricks Kiss Architects.

16 Park and the Lugar Tower renovation and expansion are part of a massive upgrade of IHA’s housing portfolio in recent years. More than 1,300 of its almost 1,800-unit portfolio are being improved and 229 units are being added.

“We wanted to become a growing housing agency,” Baird said. “This was an opportunity for us to fulfill our mission and also to take on property that was in poor condition and a detriment to the neighborhood.”•

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