Plan for private health clinic at Broad Ripple Park hits opposition

A proposal to bring a health care clinic to Broad Ripple Park is receiving criticism from some residents who say it's inappropriate to use park space for businesses.

The city’s Department of Metropolitan Development and Indy Parks are in the process of selecting a private-sector partner that would help pay to construct a clinic and family event center on about 4.5 acres of land where the existing park center currently stands.

The effort is part of a larger master plan for Broad Ripple Park that includes a new outdoor aquatic area, a revamped river walk and updated sports fields, among other improvements.

The parks board in 2018 approved spending $70 million over 20 years to improve the park, but much of that money is expected to go toward amenities other than a new event center that would replace the existing, overwhelmed 11,000-square foot building built in 1986.

Broad Ripple Park Alliance was formed in recent weeks as a last-ditch effort to derail a potential public-private partnership.

"While health clinics are certainly a needed and desirable component of a sustainable and healthy community, we do not believe it is appropriate to encroach on public park land for a private company to construct and operate facilities which further reduce our already insufficient inventory of public park land and open space," the group said in a written statement. "This is especially objectionable because other appropriate locations in established commercial areas are available within a reasonable distance."

The number of individuals who are opposed to the project isn't entirely clear, but local attorney David Dearing said he has heard from "several scores" of people who are against a private facility at the park. Dearing is among the individuals who helped form the BRPA.

The group—unaffiliated with the Friends of Broad Ripple Park group, which supports the city’s plan—is expected to host a public forum to discuss the proposal at the College Avenue branch of the public library at 6:30 p.m. Monday night.

According to a flyer for the event, “city officials have not been invited to participate because they have multiple means of promoting their point of view” that supports the development.

In addition to the BRPA, the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations sent a letter on Feb. 19 to express concern over the project. The group called the city’s plan a “piecemeal solution for one heavily-used park,” and pointed to the lack of analyses over the past several years about how the park could best be re-imagined.

Indy Parks director Linda Broadfoot said she is “not surprised” by the pushback by some residents living in the area who have expressed concern over the matter, but said the parks department and the city view the approach as the best option for the park to receive necessary upgrades.

She said the decision to seek a partner in the project was the result of a need to “get creative” in finding funding sources for new park initiatives and projects.

The existing event center, which was last updated in 2003, hosted more than 400 events in 2018, but Broadfoot said use of the space is “maxed out” and there’s a need for a much larger structure. She said new construction can cost tens of millions of dollars. More than 300,000 people visited the park last year, Broadfoot said.

The city is declining to share information about the bids until one is selected—it’s expected to be announced March 20—but the three groups that responded to a request for proposals have been publicly identified as Browning Investments, Lauth Properties LLC and BR Health Holdings LLC, a company affiliated with local-based Avenue Development.

Broadfoot said there will be public discussions about the project after a bid is chosen, but noted the land on which the building is constructed will remain public.

For critics of the plan, the issue goes beyond a private entity encroaching on public land—though that’s certainly one of the issues it lays out.

BRPA said in its written statement there is already a plethora of doctor’s offices, clinics and urgent care centers in the Broad Ripple area, and that “other areas of the city have more pressing needs,” calling the matter an issue of social equity.

Critics also point to the ParkScore study by the Trust for Public Land, which it says lists Indianapolis in last place of 100 major U.S. cities for its amenities. However, that study indicates Indianapolis does not have a rank due to incomplete data.

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