Letter: Children’s Museum responds to critics

In response to the Sept. 6 column “Time to hit pause button on Drake demolition,” we appreciate author Sheila Seuss Kennedy’s characterization of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis as one of this city’s “shining jewels,” but as trustees of the museum we are compelled to address and correct a number of her statements.

Affordability. Kennedy states that the museum is not affordable for neighborhood residents or low-income families. In fact, every household in the six neighborhoods surrounding the museum receives a free membership. We also offer free memberships to licensed Indiana foster parents and their families, and any Indiana resident who receives state assistance is eligible for the Access Pass program, which reduces admission to $2 per person. The museum also offers $5 admission on the first Thursday evening of each month, along with four free days per year. In 2018, the value of these admissions, a cost absorbed by the museum, was over $2.7 million. Parking for all visitors to the museum is free.

Sports. The Sports Legends Experience, which actually replaced a large surface parking lot that bordered Meridian, was developed to encourage families to practice healthy habits together—a family learning activity that we believe is well-suited to a children’s museum. Indiana consistently has one of the nation’s highest rates of childhood obesity, and we are proud that what Kennedy calls an “unfortunate playground” is a part of the effort to address that problem. This experience is also free to neighborhood families.

Neighborhood engagement. Kennedy’s column asserts that the museum acts “with impunity,” “dominate(s) its neighborhood,” and has worked to “demolish built environment.” In fact, the museum takes pride in its decades-long partnership with our neighbors and for years has convened regular meetings of a neighborhood working group to discuss issues that affect all. In recent years, the museum has worked to build or repair 60 neighborhood homes and partnered with the city to demolish the long-vacant Winona hospital and replace it with affordable housing and green space. In 2015, the museum launched the Mid-North Promise Program, a cradle-to-career effort to support the educational and career goals of our neighborhood students and their parents. In the past five years alone, the museum has invested $2.4 million in community initiatives. In fact, a recent report from The Kresge Foundation described the museum as a leader that has “developed anchor strategies that intentionally drive inclusive, equitable development” and “made significant investments in housing and neighborhood improvement initiatives.”

Drake. The museum announced plans to demolish the Drake months before work could even begin in order to be transparent about its intentions and the efforts made to save the structure. Once the Drake’s significant structural problems became clear, the museum met with Indiana Landmarks, which provided a list of organizations that might renovate the Drake. None were able to help, nor were several other organizations contacted by the museum. Contrary to Kennedy’s assertion, the museum has not “rebuffed” anyone. Indiana Landmarks has not “identified potential bidders” apart from those that declined to work on the project. Despite several requests, the lone hotel developer who responded to the museum’s RFP failed to provide essential details to support the viability of their plan.

By demolishing the Drake, the museum’s goal is not to create more parking; it is to reallocate money being spent on a building that no one has found a way to save so that the museum can offer programs that benefit children and families in our community. But we have heard the city’s concerns, understand the position of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, and look forward to working with the city to find a solution.

__________

Michael A. Sherman
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Ezra B. Burdix
Trustee and Chair, Master Campus Planning Working Group, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Cordelia M. Lewis-Burks
Honorary Trustee, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis & Resident of Mid-North Neighborhood

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