Firefighters union hopes concession wins project OK

The Indianapolis Professional Firefighters Union is prepared to offer a key concession in hopes of winning approval for a building project that will significantly alter the look of a nearby Massachusetts Avenue intersection.

Plans call for a new credit union with a drive-through to be constructed on part of the parking lot to the west of the existing Firefighters Union building at 748 Massachusetts Ave., near College Avenue.

credit union swapThe credit union would be built on a current parking lot along Massachusetts Avenue. (Image courtesy City of Indianapolis)

As part of the project, the firefighters union also wants to build a two-story addition onto the east side of the union hall and construct a 31-space landscaped parking lot to the north at 658 E. St. Clair St., where a vacant lot fronts College Avenue.

Approval of the project is significant because it represents the final hurdle in a land-swap deal that will pave the way for a $43 million apartment and retail development on Mass Ave.

firehouse swapThe fire department also wants to build a two-story addition onto the east side of its union hall. (Image courtesy City of Indianapolis)

To gain approval from the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, which is set on Wednesday to again consider the union’s project, the group has agreed to limit the time the parking lot on East St. Clair Street remains in that use. Essentially, it’s a five-year sunset clause.  

“In five years we’ll come back with a proposal for what we would want to do with that property,” said Scott Williams, secretary of the firefighters union.

By then, he’s hoping the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on the east side of College Avenue, which is now an IPS bus maintenance facility, will be redeveloped, making the union parking lot much more attractive.

The concession is in response to concerns from IHPC members about the construction of a parking lot on such high-profile land. The commission in July took no action on the union’s request to build and pave the lot.

“This is a considerably significant intersection, and we’re going to see a parking lot—something that in my heart of hearts, and as a practicing landscape architect, we try to avoid doing,” IHPC member Joann Green said at the last meeting.

But the union seems to have backing from the Chatham Arch neighborhood. The group voted 33-18 to support the project, even before the union introduced the idea of the five-year sunset clause, said Gary Pike, chairman of the Chatham Arch urban design committee.

“With the design of the project, they’ve really done a nice job in making that a gateway,” Pike said. “They really did everything they could to take [our concerns] into account.”

The union needs to build the parking lot on East St. Clair Street because it’s relinquishing several spaces in the lot to the west of the union hall to make way for the new credit union with a drive-through.

The credit union’s drive-through would be integrated into the building and have a brick “knee wall” on the property’s west side to help screen the drive-through from the adjacent homes to the west, according to a filing.

Indianapolis-based Lamson & Condon Inc. is the architect for the credit union building, which would be two stories and built entirely of brick with stone accents.

The union bought its 120-year-old building in 1982, at a time when Mass Ave was fraught with “liquor stores and hookers,” Williams said.

Several years ago, it acquired the vacant lot to the north where the parking lot would be built for $363,000 from a consortium of out-of-state owners, Williams said. The union plans to spend another $500,000 to build the parking lot and to help it blend in with the neighborhood.

“We have worked with everyone diligently to address their concerns,” Williams said. “We’re hopeful that this will show them that we’re listening.”

The credit union operates independently of the fire department and, unlike the department, owns the property on which its current building sits at 501 N. New Jersey St., adjacent to IFD’s headquarters at 555 N. New Jersey St.

The deal calls for the credit union to transfer ownership of its property to the city in exchange for construction of the new credit union. IFD would take over the local headquarters of the American Red Cross at 441 E. 10th St.—about four blocks from the existing IFD complex at the intersection of Massachusetts, and North New Jersey and East North streets.

The jockeying ultimately sets up construction of a five-story project with about 235 apartments and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on the 1.45-acre Mass Ave site to be vacated by the fire department headquarters and credit union.

City officials say the project, which will receive tax-increment financing revenue, will connect sections of Mass Ave and attract an influx of new residents.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross will build a new headquarters at the former home of the Payton Wells car dealership at 1510 N. Meridian St.

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