Bus route could boost south-side development opportunities

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Leaders on the city’s south side hope a proposal for a rapid-transit all-electric bus route will help spur development along a key corridor in need of new investment.

The mayors of Indianapolis, Carmel, Westfield and Greenwood in September announced a plan and potential timetable for The Red Line bus route, which would stretch 28 miles from Hamilton County to Johnson County.

Planners hope to use a $2 million grant from the federal Department of Transportation, plus $1 million in contributions from the four communities, to pay for environmental and design work on the route. Work could begin early next year, pending approval of the local funding, and last two to three years.

On Dec. 11, the Greater Southside Business Alliance and Greater Southside Community Alliance, along with the Indiana chapter of the Urban Land Institute, hosted a panel discussion to consider development opportunities along South Madison Avenue.

Those who spoke were hopeful that, with U.S. 31 and national retail chains just a block to the west, Madison Avenue will attract more local, independent shops.

Kim’s Kake Kreations and Bella Dog Bakery are among the independents that have sprung up in recent years along Madison. Leaders are targeting the area stretching from East Stop 11 Road north to East Thompson Road.

 “The citizens and the leaders noticed that it’s kind of deteriorating,” Jennifer Milliken, director of the Urban Land Institute’s Indiana chapter, said of the section. “It’s not terrible, but they want to figure out what to do with it.”

Most ripe for development might be the intersection of Madison Avenue and Southport Road.

Just to the east of the busy intersection is the vacant, 68,000-square-foot building that housed the Gerdt Furniture store that closed in early 2013. Across the street to the north is the former Davidson Lumber Co. site, where a $10.8 million senior-housing project with 93 units and 3,000 square feet of first-floor retail is set to be built.

The Southport Redevelopment Commission announced in November that it and the Indianapolis-based not-for-profit Partnership for Affordable Housing Inc. will build The Villas at the Plaza. Construction is set to start in the spring and finish by the fall of 2016.

The tax-credit project kicks off Southport’s efforts to transform the town’s central business district into a true destination, Russell McClure, president of the Southport Redevelopment Commission, said in a written statement.

“The redevelopment effort was taken by Southport in response to the community’s need for new economic growth and to improve blighted areas,” he said. “The city must be vigilant in protecting its existing core of investments and to seek to improve that economic core with new development.”

A vacant lot that sits at the southwest corner of Madison and Southport also makes the intersection attractive, said Milliken, noting that roughly 30,000 cars pass by it daily.

South-side leaders say they plan to pursue development opportunities regardless of whether the Red Line gets built, said Jacqueline Haynes, a retail broker at the Cassidy Turley real estate firm and a Greenwood resident who served on the panel.

“The line would bring more awareness, but I don’t think it changes the need for improvements [on Madison],” she said. “It’s really become a commuter corridor. It needs curb appeal.”

The preferred route would start in Carmel, following City Center Drive and Pennsylvania Street into Marion County, where it would shift to College Avenue, running through Broad Ripple and past the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

From 38th Street, the line would use either Meridian Street or a combination of Capitol Avenue and Illinois Street to downtown. The route would exit downtown along Virginia Avenue through Fountain Square, pick up Shelby Street past the University of Indianapolis campus, and then take Madison Avenue through southern Marion County to the Greenwood Park Mall.

The route would use existing traffic lanes as well as dedicated lanes built in high-traffic areas.

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