Irvington apartment, streetscape projects clear hurdles

Two significant construction projects are closer to starting in Irvington, where the district’s East Washington Street commercial corridor is bouncing back even as one of its key buildings faces demolition.

Several restaurants, a microbrewery and an Ossip Optometry office have opened or are about to open in the area, and a new residential project is on the horizon. The not-for-profit Irvington Development Organization learned early this month that it has been approved to sell state-issued housing tax credits that will finance development of an $8.9 million apartment building at 5855 E. Washington St.

The 50-unit building is to be built on the site of the former Indy East Motel, a crime-plagued property that the city shut down in 2009. IDO is developing the apartments with Irvington Partners LLC, a group of investors with ties to Meyer-Najem Construction Co.

IDO will own the project long term and reinvest its income from the project in other Irvington redevelopment projects, said Margaret Banning, interim director of IDO. Construction is slated to commence in September of October.

The next steps are to win approval of the project design from the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, which governs physical improvements in the Irvington Historic Area, and to sell the tax credits.

Tom Peck, a Meyer-Najem principal who is a partner in the project, said the credits will finance about 80 percent of the project. The Irvington project was one of only 14 successful applicants for credits in a year when 60 projects applied.    

The apartment project is one of two initiatives IDO has been working on for several years. The other is the Washington Corridor Streetscape Project, the first phase of which could start as early as May.

The $1.6 million phase will include a landscaped median, enhanced walkways, decorative lighting and benches in the core of the Irvington business district, from Ritter Avenue to Audubon Road. The phase extends a few blocks east and west of those boundaries but the improvements won’t be as pronounced outside the core area.

Some of the improvements had to be scaled back after construction bids taken last year came in way over budget. The new round of bids just received were within budget and should allow the project to proceed as soon as city and state agencies sign off on the bids, Banning said.

The project, eight years in the planning, is to be funded with a $1 million federal transportation enhancement grant, $380,000 from the city and $253,000 raised by IDO. The IDO portion includes contributions from PNC Bank, The Indianapolis Foundation and Citizens Energy.
“We can now focus on making Irvington a standout destination in the Indianapolis area—one that is pedestrian friendly and celebrates our wonderful variety of locally owned shops and restaurants,” Banning said.

Not all of the news in Irvington is positive. Banning and other neighborhood leaders are scrambling to find a way to save from demolition a 109-year-old commercial building at the northeast corner of Washington and Ritter.

The two-story, brick building at 5502 E. Washington St. anchors what was once Irvington’s busiest commercial intersection and is one of two such buildings that remain.

The building has been controlled for several decades by entities affiliated with local real estate developer Don Tharp. The owner filed a petition in February with the Historic Preservation Commission seeking permission to demolish the structure, which has been vacant since about 1997.

Eric A. Harvey, the attorney who filed the petition, said it’s not economically feasible to invest the $350,000 to $500,000 it would take to shore up the structure and renovate the exterior. But the effort to demolish it and replace it with a parking lot is on hold, at least temporarily.

Harvey said the hearing on the demolition request was pushed back from March to May 2 to give a would-be buyer, whom he would not identify, time to put together a deal. He said the building owner has named a sale price and is waiting for the potential buyer to counter.

Banning said her group is hoping to “find an angel or group of angels” willing to help save the building. It isn’t clear if her group has a connection to the potential buyer the owner is negotiating with.

Also not clear is how the city’s historic preservation commission would view the request for demolition. Demolition of historic structures is generally not permitted in the districts the commission oversees. But the commission sometimes grants demolition requests in the name of public safety.

The owner’s petition includes a letter from a local engineer stating that the building has deteriorated to the point that it is unstable.


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