City hires national group to study new uses for troubled Irvington sites

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An advisory panel from a national urban planning firm will spend this week evaluating two troubled sites in the historic east-side Irvington neighborhood for redevelopment opportunities.

Representatives of Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute will speak to dozens of people about their ideas for the struggling Irvington Plaza retail center and the vacant Ford/Visteon manufacturing site, two of the neighborhood’s most pressing development issues.

The city’s Department of Metropolitan Development hired the institute for the work on a $135,000 contract. The Irvington Development Organization is lending its expertise and other assistance.

The panel, comprised of out-of-town volunteers, is conducting interviews early this week with business professionals, real estate developers, attorneys, planners, business owners, residents, community organization leaders and city officials.

“Our goal is to explore the future potential and possibilities of these sites and identify any next steps that DMD can take to help start the process of encouraging redevelopment,” DMD Director Emily Mack said in a written statement.

The group will huddle on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss its takeaways, with plans to present its findings during a public meeting on Friday. The presentation, which will be followed by a final written report, will take place at 9 a.m. at Bona Thompson Memorial Center, 5350 E. University Ave.

Irvington Plaza, which sits in the 6200 block of East Washington Street, was built in 1952 and for years served as a primary retail hub for the neighborhood. However, the plaza has been on the decline since the 1980s, and recently lost tenants including a 32,000-square-foot Marsh supermarket.

The property, comprised of more than 137,000 square feet of retail space, is owned by Eric Becker, with leasing through local firm Midland Atlantic Properties.

Patrick Boyle, leasing agent for Midland, said the group is “actively marketing the Marsh space” and that the group is “making progress for several new tenants for the shopping center.”

He said nobody from ULI or the city has been in touch with Becker regarding conversations about the shopping center’s future. Boyle said the owner is open to selling the property and that there have “been conversations” about doing so over the past couple years.

The Ford/Visteon site is about a half-mile southeast of Irvington Plaza at 6900 English Ave. The plant at one time employed 2,200 people, but closed permanently in late 2011. Ford Motor Co. still owns the site, but it hasn’t made any moves to seek redevelopment opportunities.

The Urban Land Institute's hiring is part of a larger trend by Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration to take “tools used to revitalize downtown and apply those to different neighborhoods,” said Brad Beaubien, a long-range planner for the city.

The city in the past year has begun conversations about numerous prospective “redevelopment areas,” including North Post Road between 38th and 42nd Streets and the International Marketplace corridor on the west-side.

Last month, the city took a step forward in an effort to revitalize the Castleton area, with the hiring of local planning firm MKSK to lead discussions and a study of the heavily-trafficked corridor.

Beaubien called the Irvington study—being conducted by an all-volunteer advisory panel comprised of people from other cities—a “preliminary exploration” of what could be done with the area.

“There is a longstanding community desire to see redevelopment happen,” he said. “This is the first step toward making that happen.”

Alan Razak, chairman of the advisory panel, is the principal of Philadelphia-based real estate development firm AthenianRazak.

He said the main objective for the group is to present ideas for what can be done with the two properties and what such a project might look like—and who might fund it.

“We’re in listening mode right now,” Razak said.

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