Controversial Block 20 project moving forward 4 years after proposal

A long-delayed project adjacent to downtown’s Mass Ave district is moving forward now that its developer has acquired the land.

Construction on Block 20, a $20 million development at 428 N. East St., directly east of the Athenaeum, will start in the coming weeks, said Dan Jacobs, president of Indianapolis-based Chase Development Inc.

He said the firm closed on the purchase of the 0.75-acre parcel from Athenaeum Foundation Inc. on Jan. 9, but declined to disclose the price.

Block 20 has been in the works at least since 2016 but encountered several hurdles including a lengthy legal battle that reached the Indiana Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case in October 2018.

The mixed-use project—featuring 77 apartments, a 5,800-square-foot restaurant space and a 252-space parking garage—will also include redevelopment of Cleveland Street, transforming it from an alleyway to a “showcase for public art,” Jacobs said.

The details are slight variations from the original specs for the project announced in 2016 that called for 70 apartments, 10,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space and a 229-space garage.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the project will take place Wednesday at the Athenaeum, with work expected to be completed by the end of 2021. The Block 20 name is derived from the block’s position on the original plat of Indianapolis at the southeast corner of New Jersey and Michigan streets.

Block 20 is one of two developments that Jacobs’ firm has pursued over the past few years near the Lockerbie Square neighborhood. The other is two blocks away, at 602 N. Park Ave., that would feature 40,000 square feet of high-end office space and 6,500 square feet of retail. A start date for that project has not yet been announced.

The projects together received city approval for about $7 million in bonds to be repaid via tax-increment financing in May 2019. A final project agreement with the city reached later that year resulted in the Block 20 project receiving the lion’s share of those funds—about $4.5 million. The remaining $2.5 million will go toward the Park Avenue project, Jacobs said.

The bonds will be repaid through property taxes generated by the project, but the developer will be on the hook for any shortfall.

The project was met with resistance from a few neighborhood residents, with some accusing Jacobs of unprofessional conduct as he was preparing to seek city support. Those concerns were dismissed by the City-County Council’s Metropolitan and Economic Development committee in April.

As part of the Block 20 project, the city plans to spend about $1 million on infrastructure improvements, including repaving brick alleys around the Athenaeum. Chase will add new lighting and seating areas to Cleveland Street, while investing at least $180,000 in public art—half of which is required for projects that receive TIF dollars.

Chase Development’s partner in the Block 20 project is Third Street Ventures.

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