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Proposed redevelopment of firehouse in Butler-Tarkington finally coming into focus

December 18, 2018
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The use for the redeveloped fire station at 5555 N. Illinois St. hasn't yet been determined. (Image courtesy One 10 Studio)

The planned redevelopment of a vacant city firehouse in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood could soon move forward after many months of delays.

The Metropolitan Development Commission on Wednesday is set to consider approval of zoning changes tied to plans to turn fire station No. 16 at 5555 N. Illinois St. into a business space.

Antone Najem, principal of local developer Third Street Ventures, said a tenant hasn’t yet been selected for the 4,000-square-foot building, but indicated he is working closely with neighborhood leaders to determine the best use for the property.

He said there are several uses most of the neighboring property owners have indicated they would support, including office space, a restaurant or a retail space.

“We’re trying to bring it back to where it can house a business (for) the area,” he said. “The goal is to get a really good new business in there that falls within one of the uses that is neighborhood-supported.”

Najem is seeking a rezoning of the .36-acre parcel from a D-2 district to the C-S classification, which would permit the building to be used as commercial space. He’s also seeking a variance that would allow for “nine substandard parking spaces with (a) deficient on-site maneuvering area," according to the petition for the variance request.

Several of the parking spaces would be along the front of the property, such that cars would have to back out onto Illinois Street to leave the site. The developer also hopes to circumvent a requirement for landscaping along Illinois Street.

While situated in a mostly residential neighborhood, the fire station certainly wouldn't be the only commercial space in the corridor. The intersection of 56th and Illinois has been a business hub for the neighborhood for many decades. For example, a 21st Amendment liquor store sits directly north of the firehouse property on the southeast corner of the intersection, and the Illinois Street Food Emporium and a Graeter's Ice Cream shop are across Illinois Street.

A staff report from the Department of Metropolitan Development’s Division of Planning has recommended Third Street Ventures' proposal for approval.

Najem said the rezoning efforts, as well as working with neighbors to determine what would be a good fit for the neighborhood, delayed the project.

The firehouse closed in mid-2016 as part of a department-wide restructuring. The city took bids on the property until February 2017 and received two—from Third Street Ventures and from Jim James, owner of Indianapolis-based 21st Amendment Inc.

A review committee that included Butler-Tarkington residents and Department of Metropolitan Development officials recommended Third Street Ventures redevelop the building. The firm's plans initially called for a restaurant and bar.

Najem told IBJ on Monday that he is continuing to have conversations with potential tenants about the space, but said there is nothing yet set in stone that would determine how the property will be used. A timeline for the building’s redevelopment is also still being established.

The city has agreed to accept $400,000 from Third Street Ventures for the property. On Monday, Najem declined to specify how much would be invested in the renovation, saying it would depend on the use. In its original proposal, Third Street indicated it would spend another $400,000.

The 1932 building has several office and common areas, as well as a large, high-ceiling garage. The overhead doors in that space once had to be enlarged to accommodate newer fire engines, according to the Indianapolis Fire Department website.

Najem said that while there is a restricted amount of parking space near the building, there is public transit access (including IndyGo buses) and a sidewalk along the west side of Illinois Street.

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