Children’s Museum will challenge Drake building’s historic designation

The Children's Museum bought the 94-year-old apartment building in 2012 and said in 2019 it planned to tear it down. (IBJ file photo)

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis announced Friday that it will challenge the city’s designation of the Drake apartment building as a historic property, which—if successful—could allow it to tear down the Meridian Street structure to make room for future expansion.

The museum issued a statement saying that it has not been successful in its efforts to find a developer to renovate and operate the 94-year-old building and that it has done all it can to help the city find a reuse, to no avail.

The museum was not specific about how it planned to challenge the designation or whether it planned to file a lawsuit against the city.

“Given the current impact of the pandemic on the museum and its recent budget and staff reductions, the museum cannot afford additional short-term or long-term revenue losses, as the Drake has no direct or immediate mission-related nor revenue-related opportunities for the museum if it remains designated as historic,” the museum said.

The museum bought the eight-story building at 3060 N. Meridian St., just north of the museum’s existing complex, in 2012 for $1.25 million. At the time, the building was occupied and was not designated a historic property.

Tenants moved out in 2016 as the building’s condition continued to deteriorate.

Then in July 2019, the Children’s Museum announced it planned to raze the building, along with the former Salvation Army headquarters building nearby, to make way for new exhibits and parking.

Those plans were thwarted that September, when the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission approved measures to add the Drake building to the Marion County Register of Historic Places and create a historic area plan for the site.

The museum said in its statement Friday that the commission acted without “proper notice to and participation from” the museum.

At the time, however, Bill Browne, president of the IHPC, said that officials from the commission and the Department of Metropolitan Development had met with museum leaders in August, shortly after the museum announced its decision to demolish the Drake. But in the weeks after the meeting, he said, museum officials were unresponsive to efforts by the city and IHPC to ascertain whether the museum is willing to budge on its plans.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission approved the designation later in 2019.

The museum said the designation “will inhibit the museum’s ability to use this property to continue to grow its campus and expand its services to the community.”

In a statement, the museum touted its past efforts to expand its campus, adding the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience and Winona Green Space in the last few years, moves it says has helped it maintain its status as a top children’s museum that is among the 25 most-visited museums in North America.

“Imposing a historic area preservation plan for the Drake without a concomitant budget and plan for renovation would commit the museum to ongoing costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, with no benefit to the museum’s mission, our efforts to serve the community, or our visitors,” the statement said.

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22 thoughts on “Children’s Museum will challenge Drake building’s historic designation

  1. So they bought it in 2012, while it was occupied, and allowed it to deteriorate to the point where it was uninhabitable in 2016? Sounds like the museum made a mistake buying the property in the first place. They could have built an additional garage on one of their parking lots if they wanted more parking. Don’t destroy any more historic buildings on Meridian Street! Enough are already gone forever.

    1. It’s called “demolition by neglect”. If it were a shady character doing this, we might call the owner a “bad landlord”.

  2. Seems like yet another case of the Man—in this instance the Children’s Museum—-using their deep pockets to make a poor decision. I am not looking for a conspiracy, but I think this is one more sad instance of a rich entity doing what they want.

    1. So you’re happy with all of the historic buildings destroyed in the 20th century for parking lots? Just asking….

    2. I do see a problem with a wealthy tax exempt entity, which has also received direct state and federal funds, using its resources to tear down a lovely historic building.

      Over the years, the Museum has eaten up more and more of its surrounding neighborhood to build a fortified entertainment complex that caters primarily to suburbanites and tourists. There is so little left of the original neighborhood, and now the Museum wants to tear down one of the few remaining historic buildings in the area to build yet another parking lot? I say no! I hope that city tells the Museum to go shove it.

    3. What makes it historic? Merely its age? Or the quality and craftsmanship compared to the overwhelming majority of similar use structures today? The city didn’t find the need to seek it historic until the 11th hour. If I recall correctly, this isn’t even within the regional center. The city will likely lose this case, and should, as this is simply bad practices. A practice that equates to moving the goal posts on a whim.

      Wesley, happy, no. Yet, I do have a problem with property rights of non-protected (previously) sites and structures being negatively impacted by opinionated points and the last minute weaponization of historic designations and overlays. It’s hypocritical of the city to act in this manner with the site, then turn around and grant financial incentives and favorable land use petition recommendations to obviously substandard multi family developments.

      Chris, given the proper amount of time, that’s what ALL institutions do. If age and craftsmanship are the only qualifiers for your basis of judging historic buildings – there are plenty in the area.

      If I’m one of our wealthy Indy neighbors, I’m wondering if there’s a package to put together to convince the museum’s board about relocating and incorporating as the Central Indiana Children’s Museum. Give the little big city that can’t a taste of its own medicine.

    4. Murray, the building is historic based on its age, architectural quality, and how it contributes to the neighborhood’s aesthetics and historical development. Also, there is no precedent that if a building is not already protected as a historic structure, it cannot later be designated as a protected building, even at the “11th hour.” And, historic designation protections have nothing to do with whether a building is located in the regional center or not. In addition, there is no “case,” this is not a matter being litigated in court. Furthermore, just because you personally object to historical designation protection of this structure does not mean the city would “likely lose” a court case on the matter should there be one. The city has a strong record of prevailing on matters of historic preservation when they have been challenged.

      What is hypocritical is for a very wealthy and well-endowed institution that benefits from the taxpayers’ dollars, both through its tax-exempt status and the millions of dollars in federal, state, and local government grant it has received over the years (just looking at its current massive parking garage alone, ones finds it was largely financed by $12.5 million federal pork procured by the late Rep. Julia Carson) to use its resources to gobble up and destroy the surrounding neighborhood for parking lots and expansion of its entertainment venue that largely caters to suburban and out-of-town visitors.

      Also, do not tell me that a sophisticated organization such as the Children’s Museum did not inspect that Drake when it purchased the property only a few years before deciding it had to tear it down. So, all this nonsense about how the building has “deteriorated too much” is just a smokescreen. Since there was no mention of the building being too deteriorated when it was purchase by the TCM when it was being used as an apartment building. Obviously, the TCM never intended to preserve the building in the first place.

      It is high time for the Museum to pull its snout out from the trough of taxpayer dollars and stop using public funds to take over and destroy the neighborhood in which it is located. And, if a “wealthy neighbor” of Indy wants to take its own citizens’ tax dollars, and instead of using these funds for roads, schools, and other public services, allocate them to bank-rolling a wealthy large institution such as the TCM, then they can have at it! Carmel seems to enjoy shoveling out taxpayer funds to every private and non-profit organization that comes with its hands out, so it would be my first suggest if TCM wants to go begging.

  3. How easily we tear down IRREPLACABLE buildings and by a Museum yet. Indianapolis “enjoys” and has enjoyed a reputation for tearing down buildings and infrastructure that is part of the HISTORIC fabric of the city. (See the 1960s and its ramifications) How a museum, whether it be a “children’s” museum or whatever that is supposed to be exactly the kind of place that preserves our history and endeavors to make it relevant, turns into the “dastardly” developer that seeks only to pave over any and all objects no matter what cost, is unbelievable. How can we ever trust such a place again? How do you, in all honesty, take your kids to a place that is this careless and ignorant?

  4. THIS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED. A shallow excuse. Why have historic designation if it can be readily challenged and put to death. Figure out how to reuse or build around or maintain the façade and structure. Indianapolis has not done a very good job in preserving historical structure or aspects of the city. The diagonal avenues in downtown were hacked away slowly, but these could have been preserved and development accommodated. One thousand boos to the Children’s Museum for suggestion that this challenge be implemented. The focus should be how to incorporate or reuse the structure. Apparently the MO of the museum is to present the building as too costly to renovate or update as an excuse to seek status change and demolition. Beyond this, the entire Meridian corridor from downtown to 38th deserves careful review and proactive planning to secure and save historic structures and develop guidelines for corridor revitalization focused on sound and elegant structures, walkability and pedestrian circulation, mixed use and residential. North of Fall Creek a higher share of residential should be the focus, between 16th and Fall Creek the focus should be mixed use, and south of 16th the focus should be institutional and retail. Wha is not needed is suburbanization of the corridor with massive surface level parking lots. Vehicular access and parking is important, these can be accommodated via underground parking and parallel roadways including Illinois, Capital, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

  5. So which of you protesting the decision is ready to put YOUR money where your mouths are? What famous event happened at the Drake? Is it’s architecture and/or facade that memorable? It’s easy to say something should be “saved” when the financial impact doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

    1. We already DO put OUR money into the TCM, Timmy. Not only does the Museum benefit from its tax-exempt status, it has received many millions of dollars of federal, state, and local taxpayer funded grants over the years. In fact, just looking at the Museum’s current large parking garage, you will see it was built with a $12.5 million federal grant–i.e. “pork.” So, yes, all of us taxpayers can insist that the Children Museum respect the neighborhood in which it is located and stop gobbling up and destroying it for its own little real estate schemes. The financial impact of the Children’s Museum’s operations has been falling for years on our shoulders.

  6. Why not turn it into a hotel for people coming from out of the region to visit the Children’s Museum? Children’s has more money than it knows what to do with.

  7. It’s hard to imagine they bought this to be a residential landlord. I’d hate to see it torn down. It does raise the question of why the City waits until demolition is announced/proposed to designate it historic. It seems Indy would rather hope or trust that private entities will do the “right thing”, so they take a soft touch approach of doing absolutely nothing to protect the building until the last minute. Why not inventory the City’s building stock and designate what needs to be protected,instead of waiting for a last-minute emergency designation process that probably seems questionable regarding property rights and fairness? My quick search saw one article from 2016 asking what was next for the Drake, but I’d presume someone at IHPC was aware of the Children’s Museum 2012 purchase at the time.

  8. I love the museum and believe it is a great benefit to our city, but this reflects so badly on them. All just for a parking lot with the promise of MAYBE putting something there later?

  9. Hey… TCM is a wonderful asset for the city, but at this point they seem like a cancer eating the neighborhood. The amount of land they have consumed is enormous. The Red Line runs right in front of TCM and the building in question. The city has stated they want more high density development on this corridor, and TCM buys a high density property, runs it into the ground, and then plans to make a parking lot out of it.

    It seems like TCM has no intention of being a good neighbor to anyone and I think the city is right to push back. If they tear down the building, I hope the city blocks any zoning changes.

  10. The entire building – its architecture and its façade are historic. It’s not a specific event needed for historic status. The purpose of the Historic Preservation Act is to ensure that properties or areas are not demolished or diminished. Alternatively, the property can be incorporated into a new development. TCM purchased the property and purposely allowed it to fall in disrepair in what appears to be a blatant effort to circumvent historic preservation policies. And, to raze this structure for parking lot is not sound justification,

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