EDITORIAL: Big Car's plan for Garfield Park is inspiring

June 20, 2015

Neighborhood transformation is an ambitious mission for an arts group, but it comes naturally for Big Car Collaborative. And the city is better for it.

The enterprising group has set its sights on the Garfield Park neighborhood on Indy’s south side. Its bold plan would turn several vacant homes into artist residences and transform two commercial buildings into exhibition spaces, a radio station and an artist-curated record store. Streetscape improvements and arts programming would come next, attracting still more investment.

The plan, as detailed by IBJ Arts Editor Lou Harry in a story last week, is a godsend for a neighborhood plagued by vacant homes and boarded-up storefronts despite its proximity to trendy Fountain Square. And Big Car is not going it alone—not by a long shot.

The 11-year-old group, which has eight full-time staffers, is teaming on the project with Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, Riley Area Development Corp., Garfield Park Neighbors Association and a bevy of not-for-profits that are ponying up funding. The group has raised $600,000 of an estimated $1.5 million price tag.

That includes a $460,000 community development block grant from the city using HUD funds. Lilly Endowment kicked in $50,000 to assist in renovations. The INHP invested $75,000 on the housing initiative. A $25,000 façade grant was contributed by Local Initiatives Support Corp., while Blackline Studio is donating time for architectural development.

Big Car also will be working with nearby University of Indianapolis on projects, including relocating TEDxIndianapolis to UIndy.

The anchor is The Tube Factory, a 12,000-square-foot building at 1125 Cruft St., just east of Shelby Street, constructed in 1908 and most recently owned by Tube Processing Corp. The building’s owner even pitched in by discounting the sale price to $40,000.

Indy needs more bold thinkers like Big Car Executive Director Jim Walker, who joined the group in 2011 as its first full-time employee. Walker didn’t panic when his group found it was losing its space in the parking lot of Lafayette Square Mall. Instead, he and Big Car’s board swung for the fences.

The investments could make Garfield Park a vibrant destination, boosting property values and the city’s tax base. The artist housing in particular will help foster a sense of community—as new residents will be expected to orchestrate porch-based exhibitions and block parties. Cheers to that.•


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