The city’s historic preservation commission plans to move forward Wednesday with an effort that could curtail a plan by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to demolish an eight-story apartment building it has owned since 2012.
The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission during its monthly meeting will decide whether to recommend a historic designation for the 91-year-old Drake Apartments, 3060 N. Meridian St.
In doing so, the IHPC would effectively give itself final say over what could be done with the building—including demolition.
Commission and city officials say they’ve spent several weeks waiting for feedback from the Children’s Museum about plans for the property.
IHPC and Department of Metropolitan Development officials met with museum leaders in August shortly after the museum announced its decision to demolish the Drake and an adjacent former Salvation Army building to the north to make way for more parking and facilities. In the weeks since the meeting, museum officials have been unresponsive to efforts by the city and IHPC to ascertain whether the museum is willing to budge on its plans, said Bill Browne, president of the IHPC.
“We’ve been waiting now several weeks for some response to a meeting that we had with them,” Browne said. “I know that we are prepared to move forward.”
Brian Statz, vice president of operations for the museum, said in a written statement to IBJ that it wasn’t aware that the city or IHPC desired additional information about its plans.
“We are unaware of a request for information about the Drake from IHPC,” Statz said. “If (the) IHPC has any questions about the Drake, they are welcome to send those questions to me.”
A DMD spokesperson confirmed that the city has not received any correspondence in recent weeks from the museum regarding its plans for the Drake building, but declined to comment further.
In an effort to save the building, IHPC has drafted a historic area preservation plan for the Drake, which would need to be adopted by both the commission and the Metropolitan Development Commission to take effect.
A draft of the plan includes staff analyses of the property and evaluations of the building’s historical and architectural significance, along with preservation criteria and objectives.
The two primary objectives identified in the plan include a desire to maintain the Drake’s structure and exterior features, along with its “architectural and historic character.”
The plan also encourages adaptive reuse and redevelopment, while advocating for the owner to avoid demolition of the property. The objectives are fairly standard for properties the city considers to be historically significant.
If the IHPC votes to approve the declaratory resolution on its agenda for Wednesday’s meeting—and, in kind, the preservation plan—its recommendation would not be immediately binding. Instead, the matter would go to the MDC as a proposal to incorporate the Drake property into the city’s comprehensive plan and to formally adopt the historic area preservation plan.
The MDC would likely take up the matter, including a public hearing, in October. If approved, future development or demolition of the Drake would be under the purview of the IHPC.
“The owner would effectively need to make their argument for whatever they would be doing to the building to our commission,” Browne said. “But it doesn’t stop them or force them to do any one particular thing.”
The museum has proposed demolishing the Drake building and other properties to make way in the long term for new programming. The proposal would turn those sites into parking until a better use is determined.
The museum has 1,400 parking spaces in its garage and surface lots. It isn’t clear how many spaces would go on the Drake or Salvation Army sites.
The museum—which has a dedicated annual fund of $200,000 for the Drake and Salvation Army buildings that goes toward taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance—has said renovating the former luxury apartment building would be too costly.
A move by the city to save a historic building is relatively rare.
In 2004, the IHPC stepped in to save the city’s second-oldest house, the Thomas Askren House, at 6550 E. 16th St. Two years later, it protected Meridian Street Methodist Episcopal Church, at 802 N. Meridian St., which paved the way for its conversion into condos.
The museum has said it previously engaged with several developers about possibly renovating the building, but to no avail.
The museum issued a request for proposals that sought potential redevelopment opportunities for the building, but only one respondent offered an option: a hotel that was not financially viable, museum officials previously told IBJ.
Historic preservationists and neighbors have expressed concerns about the demolition plan in the weeks since it was announced, with several calling for the museum to reconsider.
Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks, told IBJ in August he believes the community would like the building to be saved, and argued that the museum’s RFP was too restrictive.
It “pretty much [guaranteed] failure of the RFP process,” Davis said of the museum’s effort.
The Drake, built in 1928, was purchased in 2012 for $1 million by the museum’s real estate arm, TRex Enterprises. At that time, the museum also bought another apartment property called the Whitestone, which it demolished in 2015. The museum ordered tenants to vacate the Drake in 2016, amid concerns about the deteriorating condition of the building.
Statz said the museum is aware of the IHPC’s plans to vote on the historic designation.
“We are aware of and will monitor the proceedings,” he said. “We look forward to working with the city and IHPC as this moves forward.”