City forcing removal of landmark red caboose from Broad Ripple site

The caboose has occupied city-owned land adjacent to the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple for a half-century. (IBJ photo/Mason King)

City officials are demanding the removal of the well-known red caboose in Broad Ripple from the Monon Trail by the end of the month, despite efforts by its new owner to keep the train car in its longtime location until a new home is found.

The 117-year-old caboose has occupied a tiny parcel of city-owned land adjacent to the trail, at 6535 Cornell Ave., for a half-century. But Indy Parks & Recreation and the Department of Metropolitan Development are asking for it to be moved elsewhere ahead of a planned widening of the trail this summer.

The parcel of land in question is only 6/100ths of an acre and is in a flood plain.

Kevin Wurster, who acquired the caboose and its attached pavilion in early May through his not-for-profit Juicin4Life, told IBJ he asked the city for more time to move the caboose, but the city denied the request.

“All I asked the city for was a little more time so I can move it, and they immediately said no,” Wurster said. “I’m just hoping they’ll change their mind about giving us a little more time. At this point, I already know that their minds are made up, and they won’t give in. I just hope they’ll [give] a little more time to move it. That’s the only thing that we can pray for.”

He said he gathered more than 1,000 signatures for a petition asking to the city to keep the caboose in place, but he has since “given up” after the city said it wouldn’t take the petition into consideration.

Wurster said he’s in conversations with a group in Hendricks County about relocating the caboose there, but nothing has yet been finalized.

“If we can move it, we will, but they’re not giving us the time frame to do it,” he said, “so it’s probably not going to happen.”

Indy Parks confirmed in an email to IBJ that the city “is not extending the removal expectation or date.” The caboose will become city property if it’s not removed from the trail by May 31, the parks department said, although it did not say what would happen to the caboose if the city took ownership. 

Wurster had planned to open a health-focused juice bar in the caboose, if it had been permitted to stay. The bar would have featured CBD-infused juices and alkaline water.

Indy Parks said it had conversations with Wurster and previous caboose owner JR Walsh about removing the train car and notified them it must be cleared from the property by the month’s end. Part of the motivation, the parks department indicated, is that the city has missed out on thousands of dollars in potential property taxes over the past 20 years even though the site housed a private business.

“Over the past several years, Indy Parks has evaluated the future of the Monon Trail space presently occupied by the red caboose,” the department said in a written statement. “The previous lease agreements with the caboose owner have expired, and the city is now footing the full annual property tax bill without receiving compensation for taxes as the owner operates and/or leases a business out of the structure.”

Indy Parks said it has not yet finalized plans for what will become of the land that houses the caboose, but “will continue to evaluate future uses for the space, including considering upcoming construction with the widening of the trail.”

According to Waymarking.com, the caboose was built in 1904 and was part of the New York Central Lakeshore Lines. The train car became part of the Monon Rail System in the late 1960s and traveled the tracks that now form the Monon Trail.

During the a bankruptcy in the 1970s, the train caralong with another caboose that was later removedwere sidelined on a side spur in Broad Ripple. It has remained there ever since.

The city took control of the rail line property and the caboose through eminent domain and sold the caboose to an entity owned by Elizabeth Dillon called Little Red Caboose Inc. in 1999. Indianapolis, however, maintained ownership of the land on which the caboose sits. Dillon signed a 10-year lease for the land the same year she acquired the train car.

Walsh bought the caboose from Dillon in 2007 and extended the land lease with the city for 10 years in 2009 at $1,800 per year. Walsh renovated the caboose and operated his business, JR Walsh Realty, from the property.

In 2015, the city exercised its right to terminate the lease following a dispute with Walsh over which party was responsible for paying annual taxes for the property, as well as a disagreement over the validity of the lease.

But city officials allowed the caboose to stay on the property until Indy Parks determined next steps.

Walsh told IBJ he tried to continue conversations with the city about re-upping the lease on new terms, but said city officials were unresponsive. In 2019, the city put out a request for proposals for the land, but ultimately never selected a winning bid.

Walsh said he submitted two proposals himself. One would have allowed the city to purchase the caboose for $2 and another would have donated the caboose to the Indy Parks Foundation, he said. He said that after back-and-forth discussion with city officials—including a denial from the city about ever receiving the proposals—he heard nothing until late 2020, when the city called for him to remove the caboose.

He said he asked the city for at least six months to market the caboose and find a potential buyer or other solution—which officials agreed to, giving him until May 31 to remove the train car from park land.

Wurster said he was aware of the dispute with the city when the property was conveyed to him by Walsh and his real estate firm. He said he acquired it with the hope of preserving the caboose in some way.

He said while the situation with the city has led him to consider moving elsewhere, he still plans to open a juice bar at different location in the Broad Ripple area with an unidentified partner. Wurster previously had a CBD shop on College Avenue, but cleared out from the space after construction of the Red Line disrupted business.

“A lot of people have told me they truly love what I’m trying to do at least … even though the government won’t allow this thing to stay,” he said. “This piece of history is going to end up some parking spaces, and that’s the most disgusting thing.”

Like Wurster, Walsh said he doesn’t regret investing in the caboose—he bought it for $65,000 and spent tens of thousands of dollars on improvements—but is is saddened by the city’s call to remove the landmark.

“The city is gonna lose an historical component of Broad Ripple, which is rather unfortunate,” he said. “I’m very disappointed. The city of Indianapolis—Broad Ripple, specifically—deserves better.”

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26 thoughts on “City forcing removal of landmark red caboose from Broad Ripple site

  1. It is a shame that unique landmarks like the caboose are not seen by the city as important. The point and appeal of Broad Ripple is its interwoven fabric of new and old. Rather than saying, “This does not work with our plan,” it would be great to have our city say, “How can we make this work with our plan?” even if it involved moving up or down the trail a bit. Property taxes for this tiny parcel are a side issue.

    1. Well stated. Further validating that our city is run by imbeciles starting at the top.

    2. I imagine the concern here is widening the trail without impacting the parking spaces. If there’s anything the closure of BR Ave early in the pandemic told us, it is that business owners in Broad Ripple are hyper-concerned about parking access. You could probably keep or get it moved nearby or route the widening around the caboose, but it would probably cost 4-8 parking spaces.

    3. Hi GB.
      Thanks for the comments and perspective. For six years, I’ve been asking about the parks department plans for the property. To date, they have “no plans” for the property. The trail is to be widened by two feet and the city have the space even with the caboose sitting in place.
      The decks at Brics and Public Greens directly about the trail. Will those businesses be asked/forced to remove their decks and or close their businesses for the widening?

  2. The city has already allowed the destruction of Broad Ripple Village with their reckless zoning approvals while chasing the almighty tax dollar. I for one have abandoned Broad Ripple in its new state. I have taken my business elsewhere.

    1. Have to agree. The multi story condos on every inch of available dirt make the Monon and canal an unrecognizable canyon. Throw in the cluster that is the Red Line, and BR is not an attractive destination.

    2. Chuck – what “multi story condos” are there in Broad Ripple besides the ones east of Westfield Blvd by Oxbow?

    3. With the arrival of the four new multi-story apartment buildings in the heart of the business district, roughly a thousand new residents now live within a short walk of the shops, restaurants, and bars. New restaurants and businesses have opened in the district as well, and they are thriving. There is a new vibe in Broad Ripple. It’s energy makes it a destination neighborhood for living, working, and playing.

  3. Where can we find more information about the planned widening of the trail? I went to an informational meeting in 2019, then read a snipet about the widening being delayed for a year due to poor planning by the city, but haven’t been able to find any updates since then other than this article mentioning “later this summer”…. Also, sad news about the caboose.

  4. I mean I guess its neat, but it has never been any type of public business or otherwise used in a way that engages the public. At times it has even looked pretty worn down. I’m fine with it being moved.

    Also damn, I really should’ve gotten in on this CBD bandwagon.

    1. Hi Matt.
      The caboose was used as a local real estate company servicing the public from 2007-2015. It was also used by many that simply asked if they could get married there, take family photos, political stumping, visit with Santa, etc.
      During the years that I owned it and operated it, the property was always kept immaculate. The parks department even used it a a signature piece for visiting dignitaries that wanted to see the value in rehabbing a railway for public use.
      JR Walsh
      Thanks for your comments.

  5. From the get-go starting with the headline this story paints the City as the bad guy, yet the story says that the prior owner was given prior notice and an extension to May 31, 2021, and yet he marketed and sold the caboose without disclosing that it had to be moved by that date. Any property owner is entitled to manage the use of its property as it sees fit. The owner’s beef is with the guy that sold the caboose to him.

    1. Hi Matt.
      The caboose was used as a local real estate company servicing the public from 2007-2015. It was also used by many that simply asked if they could get married there, take family photos, political stumping, visit with Santa, etc.
      During the years that I owned it and operated it, the property was always kept immaculate. The parks department even used it a a signature piece for visiting dignitaries that wanted to see the value in rehabbing a railway for public use.
      JR Walsh
      Thanks for your comments.

    2. Hi Robert.
      There are always two sides to a story, and then there’s the truth. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people wanted to purchase the caboose after the city gave me an ultimatum and a final deadline. Unfortunately, the city would not give any potential buyer the time of day in regards to keeping the caboose at the same location.
      The organization to which I donated the caboose was well aware of the timeframe established by the city- just wanted to clarify the misinformation.
      JR Walsh

  6. Sadly, there seems to be no cooperation from the government side even though “they” have no real plan other than a 2 foot widening.

    They whine about lost property taxes – how much can that be for 6/100ths of an acre and in a flood plain without a business on it? The assessed value of that cannot be much…but then again, the City could have used those “alleged lost” property tax funds to fill maybe ~4-5 chuckholes in their lousy streets.

    Frankly, a business owner and a residential property owner should be seen as customers of the City because “we” generate revenue for the City but sadly in today’s government mentality, they see us as their servants to their swollen egos. The City needs to grow up and find a way to work this out for the betterment of BR but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    1. Absolutely on target. I looked up the AV on other properties on the City property. It’s minuscule — between $2,000 and $29,000. The caboose is an amenity and a reminder of the historic grounding of the Monon Trail. The charm of Broadripple is gone.

  7. Always follow the money
    .Who profits by removing the caboose?
    The gardens of Martha Hoovers restaurant are just as close to the trail and even obstruct sight lines when crossing the Monon..The new Java Junction takes up.space along Monon too..The depot and the caboose reinforce the history of the Monon Trail. why are we erasing the history of Railroads in BroadRipple?
    I smell a skunk in this rigid approach to a beloved landmark.on a teeny piece of land.

  8. Help me out here with the logic that the city/parks department is complaining of lost property tax payments (in the “thousands of the dollars”) but “may” convert the tiny space to a widening of the Monon Trail. Are hikers & bikers going to pay tax for using this new widening of the trail? Sounds like a non sequitur to me.

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