IHPC to vote on putting historic designation on Drake Apartments building

The Drake apartments at 3060 N. Meridian St. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

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.”

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16 thoughts on “IHPC to vote on putting historic designation on Drake Apartments building

    1. It does not, and this has been held up repeatedly through legal rulings. A taking would require preventing them from doing anything with the property, and they can still do things with the property.

  1. If this building is truly “historic” and deserved protection, the IHPC would have given it that designation long before now. Because its move to do so now, on the heels of the Children’s Museum plan to raze the dilapidated structure, makes its johnny-come-lately actions suspect. Of course, the IHPC members could prove me wrong by ponying up their personal funds to buy and renovate the building if they think it is so important.

    1. Boohoo. Not every building that qualifies for historic preservation has been designated as such, and the IHPC has full legal authority to be as “John-Come-Lately” as it pleases. Also, the IHPC members decide if a building meets historic preservation status criteria or it does not, they do not need to “pony up” jack that is not how the process works.

      Here is the real deal. The Children’s Museum is a large organization that has a HUGE amount of money. Moreover, it has the privilege (and it is a privilege) of non-profit tax status, which means it is legally obligated to provide a public benefit since it lives off the public’s subsidy. The Children Museum may think tearing down the neighborhood for its parking and real estate schemes is the easiest path to take, but it does not always get to do what it wants, and I am glad to see some people finally standing up to it.

  2. The Drake is no more dilapidated than many other buildings that have been renovated and restored for continuing use. The so called effort that the museum went through to renovate the Drake was to provide cover for their ultimate goal of demolishing it. They did not demolish the Stutz home for future parking. Why? They knew that the community would be outraged. The Museum is a wonderful institution that does not need to ride roughshod over the neighborhood. They have plenty of parking lots.

  3. Great news. Yes it’s sort of “last minute” but remember “action…followed by reaction.” This building has so much going for it – beautiful period architecture, size, location (now on the Red Line) etc. It’s time that Indianapolis stopped tearing down its quality, historic buildings. And Jeffrey D C. is absolutely right – numerous buildings of character in the area, some in worse shape, have been successfully brought back to sustainable life.

    1. The Children’s Museum can afford lawyers who understand that would be a LOSING lawsuit. It is legal, and this process has been upheld by the courts. If it happens, then the TCM will have to figure out how to use the property with the Drake on it. That’s life.

    2. Or move it. The precedent exists in the form of the Ambassador apartments, which were in the St. Joseph Historic District and were moved out of the way of the Central Library expansion.

  4. If you are following this conversation – this has been announced in the IBJ:

    The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission voted 8-0 (with an abstention by Bruce Stauffer) to approve a pair of resolutions adding emergency protection to the 91-year-old Drake Apartments building at 3060 N. Meridian St.

  5. Everyone in this discussion should read the well-stated editorial by Sheila Suess Kennedy, p. 15A of Sept. 6 print copy of the IBJ – “Time to hit pause button on Drake demolition.” She describes the ever expanding developments and how they’re impacting on the area.