Monument Circle face-lift set to move forward

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An international design competition held two years ago generated ideas for Monument Circle that ranged from striking and extreme to pleasantly mundane.

One of the finalists would have beamed lights from inside the historic Soldiers and Sailors Monument, while others suggested outdoor dining.

The city of Indianapolis is ready to move forward with a more basic improvement: resurfacing the brick-paved circle and adjacent blocks on Market Street. The Department of Public Works recently signed a $555,750 contract with Indianapolis-based RW Armstrong and Associates for design work on the circle.

The design contract uses $444,000 remaining from a 2011 federal transportation grant, which must be spent by July, plus $111,750 from Rebuild Indy, the fund created from the sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy.

The final design could also include some of the less-controversial concepts that emerged from the 2011 Monument Circle Idea Competition, such as narrowing the traffic lane to create more dedicated space for pedestrians and adding high-quality lighting and street furniture.

“Our biggest goal is to preserve what everyone enjoys, and that’s the monument and Monument Circle,” Chief Engineer Andy Lutz said.

The brick pavers were last replaced in the late 1970s and early '80s. Since then, the city has done patch work at a cost of about $125,000 a year. By comparison, the city can repave one lane-mile of road for $156,000, Lutz said.

The area below the circle is deteriorating, and utility lines are about 100 years old and in need of replacement, Lutz said.

A scoping study completed in 2011 suggested resurfacing the circle in granite, but Lutz said that was under money-is-no-object conditions. The design phase will take into consideration costs, plus stakeholder feedback on materials and other details.

At this point, the city doesn’t have enough money on hand to complete the design. Part of RW Armstrong’s task is to find another $1 million in grants for its own work, as well as federal funding for the project itself.

If everything lines up, construction would begin in 2016 and last about two years. The circle would remain open to traffic.

RW Armstrong helped the city coordinate the Cultural Trail, a project of the Central Indiana Community Foundation that was built on city right-of-way with $42 million in private donations, plus a $20.5 million federal economic-stimulus grant.

The same team involved with finding money for the Cultural Trail is working on the Monument Circle team, deputy project manager Mark Zwoyer said.

The design phase will mean a new round of stakeholder meetings with Monument Circle building owners and tenants, probably in the fall, Zwoyer said.

Coming to consensus on a final design will not be easy, predicted Brigadier Gen. Stewart Goodwin, executive director of the Indiana War Memorial Commission, which oversees the monument.

Having sat through past meetings with property owners on the circle, he said, “You couldn’t get those people to agree on what day it was, let along how those properties ought to be used.”

One long-discussed goal for the Circle is more daily activity, beyond office workers’ lunch time and special events. Zwoyer thinks that will happen if the circle’s design encourages retail instead of offices at street level.

“You have to build an infrastructure that supports activity, so the private sector will play along,” Zwoyer said.

Entrants in the ideas competition took liberties with the monument that probably won’t fly with its overseers. The State Historic Preservation Commission has already told the city public works department that it won’t allow physical changes to the monument, Goodwin said.

The war memorial commission will weigh in on the final design, but Goodwin said Monument Circle is important enough to the state that that opinion would probably come from the governor himself.

Two seemingly modest suggestions included in the scoping study were to redesign the lawn quadrants at the monument’s base for public access and to allow interaction with the fountain pools.  

Ice skating in the frozen basins, which was allowed until the 1980s, doesn’t seem likely for a comeback. The freeze-thaw cycle damaged the pools, and Goodwin said the commission has spent several hundred thousand on repairs in recent years.

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