Site swaps could clear the way for $43M Mass Ave project

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City officials are working on a deal that could result in a new headquarters and downtown station for the Indianapolis Fire Department, a fresh user for a vacant former car dealership, and long-awaited groundbreaking on a $43 million apartment and retail redevelopment on Mass Ave.

The multi-step deal, which is still under negotiation, calls for IFD to take over the Indianapolis headquarters of the American Red Cross at 441 E. 10th St. in the Chatham Arch neighborhood—about four blocks north of the existing IFD complex at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, North New Jersey Street and East North Street.

firestation-map.gifThe Red Cross site could accommodate the fire department headquarters, downtown fire station and Firefighter’s Credit Union, offering a simpler solution than finding separate sites for each.

To make way for the fire department, the Red Cross would build a new local headquarters at the former home of the Payton Wells car dealership at 1510 N. Meridian St. The dealership closed in 2007 and the flagship building was demolished in January.

The final step: A team of local developers—J.C. Hart Co., Schmidt Architects and Strongbox Commercial—would start construction on a proposed five-story project with about 235 apartments and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on the 1.45-acre Mass Ave site.

City officials say the $43 million project, which would receive free land and a public investment from TIF revenue, would connect sections of Mass Ave and attract an influx of new residents. The real estate brokerage CBRE is working with the city to orchestrate the development and all the moves required to make it happen.

The city and Red Cross are negotiating through the details, though none of the financial arrangements has been settled and the city could still go in another direction, cautioned Deron Kintner, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development.

The fire department is familiar with the Red Cross site since it conducts exercises and strategy meetings there, including before Indianapolis hosted the 2012 Super Bowl. Other advantages include a central location in the department’s service area and a smaller public investment since the existing facility could be renovated to accommodate IFD, Kintner said.

The American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis is working with its national real estate planning team and a local architecture firm to iron out the details of a potential new facility on the Payton Wells site, CEO John Lyter said.

He said the Red Cross is working from a template for new facilities developed after Hurricane Katrina destroyed several Red Cross outposts.

About 40 people work at the local Red Cross office in a 56,000-square-foot space. The organization may downsize to about 45,000 square feet, Lyter said.

“We’re all trying to do the homework to see if we can make this work well for all the parties involved,” he said. “We’re trying to be real open with one another about what are all the options and what creates great value for the Red Cross and the city of Indianapolis.”

The Red Cross would own its facility, and the city would own its fire station and fire headquarters.

Kintner Kintner

An earlier version of the plan for redevelopment of the fire station’s Mass Ave property called for the IFD headquarters to move to the former School 97, next door to Arsenal Technical High School, and for the city to build a new Fire Station No. 7 at the northwest corner of Michigan Street and College Avenue in the Lockerbie neighborhood.

The Lockerbie site remains a possibility but is less likely after the neighborhood put up a strong fight.

The Chatham Arch neighborhood would have a chance to weigh in on the Red Cross plan before a final deal came together, Kintner said.

“It’s been a challenging process—almost like finding a needle in the haystack,” he said.

The land the Red Cross is considering for its new headquarters is one of four former Payton Wells parcels now controlled by businessman Bill Mays. The 2.4-acre parcel is up for sale with an asking price of $1.8 million and is listed by Newmark Knight Frank Halakar.

Principal Todd Maurer said his firm is negotiating a contract on the property with an entity he declined to name.

A second parcel is under contract with locally based Crossroads Development & Consulting, which plans a four-story apartment community called The Kennedy, with five wings and courtyards along Pennsylvania Street and a separate, smaller building with first-floor retail and restaurant space along Meridian Street.•

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