Neighborhood eyesore headed for demolition

The abandoned buildings on a former lead-foundry site that have long been eyesores for residents of a west-side neighborhood will be demolished early next year.

The city is soliciting bids from companies to tear down four buildings on the 16-acre Avanti Development Corp. property on Harris Street, which is tucked in a residential area a few miles west of downtown Indianapolis. Proposals are due Tuesday.

The site housed lead-smelting and lead-oxide facilities for about a century, but those operations have been defunct for decades.

In the early 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency deemed it a high-priority cleanup because of lead contamination levels that were among the worst in the state. The EPA removed acres of contaminated soil from the area but the buildings remained, inviting crime and posing a hazard to neighborhood children who wandered there.

“If I had to live across the street from that, I don’t think I could get out of bed and look at it every day,” said Leigh McCall, who lives four blocks away from the site and serves as president of the We Care Neighborhood Association, which represents homeowners in the area surrounding the site. “It’s depressing.”

City leaders decided to tackle the Avanti site—named for a firm that purchased the property after the foundry left—after tearing down other high-profile buildings earlier this year. Those included the Keystone Towers project near Keystone Avenue and Fall Creek Parkway and the former Winona Hospital on North Meridian Street.

“Avanti is now the number-one suspect for the top most-wanted demolitions,” said Reggie Walton, abandoned buildings administrator for the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development. “That’s always been that community’s biggest eyesore.”

The city hopes to fund most of the tear-down by salvaging steel from the building and selling it. Walton expects that could offset the cost by about $700,000. Demolitions of that scale typically cost about $1 million, but the exact figure depends on the bids. Leftover federal grant funding and money from the city's utilities sale will cover the difference.

It’s unclear exactly why the buildings were left on the site after the EPA cleanup. At the time, several firms that may have shared in responsibility for the contamination tangled over who should pay the cleanup costs. A handful ultimately agreed to pay the EPA for cleanup.

Crews removed contaminated soil from the ground near the buildings and yards in surrounding blocks, placed it on 6 acres of the site, and covered it with clay to seal off the contamination.

But at the time, local and federal agencies were less coordinated in their efforts to discuss next steps for redevelopment, such as building removal.

“One of the more distressing parts of it was that empty hulks of buildings were left lying idle,” said Chris Harrell, a former brownfields redevelopment director at the city who now runs his own consulting business. “Removing the buildings and the blight they represent is the first step in getting the site back to reuse.”

McCall, of the neighborhood association, said those buildings have become magnets for squatters and prostitutes, who conduct business in them.

Over the years, cars have been left inside. Fires have been set. And kids have meandered there to play—even setting up a basketball hoop in an area that may still carry lead contamination.

The buildings will be torn down to their foundations, Walton said, because it’s not clear whether contaminated ground lies beneath them.

So far, there are no concrete plans to redevelop the site, but Walton said the city has discussed turning the space into a park for the neighborhood. That would involve putting out a request for proposals seeking firms to redevelop the site.

Any reuse also would require additional soil and groundwater testing, Harrell said, and potentially extra cleanup costs, depending upon the level of remaining contamination.

“The [first] step is to get the blight removed,” Walton said. “It makes it difficult to see the site’s potential when you’re looking at the current problems.”

The city hopes to select the bidder in time to begin work the second week of January. The project is expected to take about 45 days to complete.

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