Downtown plan proposes street changes, parks, lighting

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An ambitious five-year vision to improve downtown Indianapolis proposes a slew of enhancements that include converting a few key thoroughfares to two-way streets, creating neighborhood micro-parks and installing more street-level lighting.

The plan, dubbed Velocity, was initiated and compiled by Indianapolis Downtown Inc. The not-for-profit is set to officially announce the goals late Tuesday afternoon at Union Station.

One of the driving forces behind preparing the plan is the ongoing transformation of downtown into a collection of residential neighborhoods, IDI President Sherry Seiwert said.

“We are now looking at downtown differently,” she said. “Historically, we have planned downtown for those who work and visit. But now, with the unprecedented amount of residential growth that we’re experiencing, we need to think about downtown as a neighborhood.”

Velocity follows up on a housing study released by IDI in November that said 3,500 additional apartment units are expected to be built within the next three years, bringing the total number available to more than 8,000.

To meet that growth, downtown’s neighborhoods need to be linked by pedestrian-friendly streets, according to the plan. For example, Velocity calls for converting one-way streets such as Michigan Street and the section of College Avenue south of Massachusetts Avenue into two-way roads to slow traffic.

“Just the idea of calming traffic would benefit downtown,” Seiwert said.

IDI launched Velocity in April and held a series of forums to gather public input about downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. A committee of 30 civic leaders helped to mold the plan.

City officials, including Department of Metropolitan Development Director Adam Thies, have been involved in the process, and Mayor Greg Ballard will help unveil the plan Tuesday, city spokesman Marc Lotter said.

“The downtown that we enjoy today has been planned over the course of 30 to 40 years,” Lotter said. “Having a plan like this to outline the goals on where we want to go in the future is critical to ensure that downtown continues to be a magnet for residents and new investment.”

IDI’s Seiwert said her organization will work with other groups such as Visit Indy, Indiana Sports Corp., Indy Chamber, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and the Arts Council of Indianapolis to help ensure that many of the proposals come to fruition.

“I am quite confident that most of it will get implemented,” she said.

Velocity is divided into six subject areas: housing, neighborhoods and livability; downtown environment and experience; multi-modal transportation; vibrant economic development; public spaces and activation; and arts, culture sports and attractions.

Here are highlights from each category:

Housing, neighborhoods and livability

• Identify eight sites in residential neighborhoods to create micro-parks, community gardens, play spaces and dog parks.

• Target and enhance underpasses at key gateways that connect to surrounding neighborhoods by incorporating lighting and murals.

• Identify vacant office space to convert to day-cares, primarily for infants and pre-schoolers, and investigate the feasibility of an additional public K-8 school to entice more families to move downtown.

Downtown environment and experience

• Increase the number of downtown trees to promote sustainability and beautification.

• Use street-level ambassadors on Georgia Street to improve safety and cleanliness.

• Install more street-level lighting to reduce crime and increase beautification.

Multi-model transportation

• Participate in the rollout and promote the new electric car-share program a French company plans to establish in the city.

• Investigate a plan to convert Vermont Street as primarily a pedestrian and bike corridor connecting the east and west sides of downtown.

• Install more bike racks at key locations and develop a bike-demand plan.

Vibrant economic development

• Develop an inventory of catalytic sites to house entrepreneurial businesses.

• Create a real estate task force to gather market information to better retain and recruit businesses.

• Create free Wi-Fi zones within the downtown core.

Public spaces and activation

• Connect developers with designers or artists to enhance projects near public spaces with artistic amenities.

• Advocate for the installation and maintenance of public restrooms.

• Create a fully functioning urban park (University Park) that includes a play area, interactive water features, recreational activities and food/beverage options.

Arts, culture, sports and attractions

• Initiate a two-week Indianapolis Arts Festival, launching with the Start With Art luncheon, to showcase the diversity of local artists.

• Investigate the feasibility for subsidized artist live-work spaces and small venues to showcase artists’ work.

• Encourage guerrilla-style street events that surprise people and use public spaces.


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