The Great American Songbook Foundation plans to construct a museum in Carmel north of the Center for the Performing Arts.
The organization has entered into a preliminary agreement with the city of Carmel to locate the museum on 3.7 acres at the northeast corner of City Center Drive and 3rd Avenue Southwest.
Mayor Jim Brainard, who made the announcement Monday night during his final State of the City address, told IBJ the city wanted to find a place for the Great American Songbook museum close to Center for the Performing Arts campus.
“This will be a national attraction,” Brainard said. “Cleveland, Ohio, has the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, and Nashville has the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, so it’s very exciting that we now have signed this document.”
The Carmel Redevelopment Commission earlier this year acquired the site with the intent of guiding future growth along the Monon Greenway between City Center Drive and the Midtown Plaza.
The property is currently occupied by businesses Salon 01 and Laser Flash.
Salon 01, a hair salon and spa owned by David Stirsman, is expected to relocate to the $100 million Monon Square development at East 126th Street and South Rangeline Road. Laser Flash will also relocate, according to the Great American Songbook Foundation.
Chris Lewis, executive director of the Great American Songbook Foundation, said in written remarks that selecting a site is a “key early step in the process of realizing our long-term vision, which is to create a freestanding facility dedicated to the history and the future of American popular music.”
“With a specific location in mind, we now can proceed with preliminary designs, feasibility studies and other elements needed to establish a case for a national capital campaign,” Lewis said. “We have several years of work ahead of us before breaking ground.”
The initial pre-lease agreement between the Songbook Foundation and the Carmel Midtown Community Development Corp., a not-for-profit corporation that works with the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, is the first step in creating a 50-year lease at $1 per year, according to the foundation.
Under the terms of the pre-lease agreement, the final lease agreement will begin no later than May 1, 2027.
The deal would be contingent on several factors that include the vacation of the site by the current businesses and demolition of the existing structures; the completion of a feasibility study showing the site is suitable for a museum and event space; and the completion of another feasibility study indicating the Songbook Foundation can execute a capital campaign and raise sufficient funds to construct and support the museum.
Once the 50-year lease term begins, the Songbook Foundation would need to launch a capital campaign within 18 months, receive final design approval from the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, begin construction within five years, complete construction within three years after construction begins and maintain liability insurance on the land and all improvements.
The Songbook Foundation, founded by famous performer and preservationist Michael Feinstein, has maintained an exhibit gallery and vast historical archive at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel since its founding in 2007, but its long-term mission is to establish the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame Museum.
The museum would be home to the Songbook Library & Archives, which consists of more than 500,000 historical items that include audio and video recordings, images, sheet music, orchestral arrangements, memorabilia, handwritten lyrics of classic songs and personal papers of some of music’s most important and historical figures.
The foundation envisions an institution along the lines of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but dedicated to American popular songs and jazz standards from the 1920s to the 1950s that originated from Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood.
In 2018, Bren Simon, the widow of late real estate magnate Mel Simon, donated her entire 107-acre Asherwood estate in Carmel to the foundation.
The Great American Songbook Foundation considered first turning the 50,000-square-foot mansion into a museum before an undisclosed individual purchased the building and 20 acres of the property in 2021.
Indianapolis-based Gradison Design Build purchased the remainder of the estate with plans for a 40-lot subdivision that it is developing with Carmel-based Old Town Design Group.
The foundation did not disclose the amount of the Asherwood sale. The property was listed for $25 million.
The Songbook Foundation invested most of the proceeds of the Asherwood sale with the intent to create a long-term endowment for the organization. The museum’s construction would be funded by the capital campaign.