LISC aims to turn dormant industrial sites into job-creators

A local not-for-profit is undertaking an ambitious effort to help create jobs in urban areas by targeting vacant industrial properties for reuse.

Local Initiatives Support Corp. unveiled the results Monday of a year-long study to identify the best uses for the properties and what areas of the city need the most attention.

The study concludes that the food-manufacturing-and-distribution, business-to-business and technology sectors are well-positioned to bring lower-skilled jobs to sections of the city where manufacturers once thrived.

Topping LISC’s list for its job-creation initiative is the Washington Street corridor, extending to the east from Interstate 65 to Sherman Drive. The corridor received a huge boost earlier this month from Angie’s List Inc.’s announcement that it plans to spend $40 million to renovate the 176,000-square-foot former Ford manufacturing facility owned by Indianapolis Public Schools.

“The decline in our manufacturing base has meant fewer opportunities for meaningful employment,” LISC said in the study. “It’s also meant a lot of empty and underutilized industrial facilities that threaten to undermine the quality of our neighborhoods and the fiscal health of our city.”

LISC has budgeted $300,000 for the program next year to offer façade grants and other incentives in hopes of helping to finance $1 million in real estate transactions, said Rachel McIntosh, its senior program officer of commercial revitalization.

The organization can offer brownfield grants for site cleanup and low-cost loans through the Small Business Administration to finance property transactions.

A prime example of a property ripe for redevelopment is the vacant P.R. Mallory site at Gray and Washington streets on the east side.

“Our goal is to get them occupied, get them cleaned up and get them job-producing again,” McIntosh said of the properties.

Today, most distribution centers and manufacturing facilities are near interstates to improve transportation efficiencies. But before the highway system was constructed in the 1950s, many were in neighborhoods.

Now most are vacant and blighted eyesores.

“They’re not as clean as an industrial park,” LISC Executive Director Bill Taft said. “They’re much more scattered within the neighborhoods. Because of that, you could end up working on a wide range of projects.”

LISC typically relies on the outreach of organizations such as the Englewood Community Development Corp., whose area includes East Washington, to spread the word about its programs.

LISC also plans to notify businesses that have previously benefitted from its grants about its intent to transform the industrial sites.

Food manufacturers and distributors might be most ripe to take advantage of the program. The sector grew 10 percent between 2002 and 2012 and is expected to grow another 7 percent by 2022, according to the LISC report.

What’s more, the jobs are highly accessible. About 75 percent require an associate’s degree or less and half just a high school diploma or less, the study said.

Companies catering to other businesses, such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning firms, as well as uniform and cleaning services and print shops, also could benefit.

Luring tech firms to the properties might be the biggest challenge. LISC didn’t study the sector deeply, but the sector has a strong city presence that’s projected to grow. A strong cluster of firms already existing near downtown might help East Washington Street’s cause, according to the study.

LISC is considering expanding the program next year to two other areas—the Mass Ave industrial corridor northeast of interstates 65 and 70, already on the city’s radar as part of the Urban Land Institute’s Rose Fellowship program, and 16 Tech.

The city hopes 16 Tech—bounded by 10th Street to the south, 16th Street to the north, Fall Creek Parkway to the east, and White River to the west—will become a magnet for high-tech jobs and life-sciences research.  



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