Firefighters union wins OK for College Avenue parking lot

The Indianapolis Professional Firefighters Union won city approval Wednesday evening to build a parking lot near a key Massachusetts Avenue intersection, contingent upon a few revisions.

The parking lot is part of the larger plan to build a new credit union with a drive-through on part of the parking lot to the west of the existing Firefighters Union building at 748 Massachusetts Ave., near College Avenue.

As part of the project, the firefighters union also wants to build a two-story addition on the east side of the union hall and construct the 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.

Indianapolis Historic Preservation Committee members approved the union’s plans to build the parking lot, with the contingency that a 42-inch solid screen be built on three sides of the lot.

“That would go along way into making this a gateway to the downtown,” IHPC member Joann Green said.

Commission members preferred that the union market the lot for development. But recognizing that it’s zoned appropriately for a parking lot, they finally OK'd the plans after lengthy discussions spanning several meetings.

The screen would block passersby on College Avenue to the east, East Arch Street to the north and East St. Clair Street to the south.

The parking lot will have 20 spaces as opposed to the 31 the union originally proposed.

The union decided to scale back the size of the parking lot after IHPC members made it clear they would not support the original plan with the variances that the union had requested.

That was even after the union proposed limiting the time the parking lot remains in that use. Essentially, it was a five-year sunset clause.

“In the end, the property is zoned for this,” IHPC member Bruce Stauffer said. “It meets all the requirements.”

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 land-swap 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 Avenue, 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.   

IHPC still needs to approve the design of the apartment and retail development before it can move forward. Schmidt Associates, the architect on the project, has been waiting for the parking lot issue to be resolved before submitting the plans.

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