Historic preservation commission votes to protect Drake Apartments

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

The city’s historic preservation commission voted Wednesday night to protect an eight-story apartment building owned by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis amid concerns the structure may be torn down in coming weeks.

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.

IBJ first reported early Wednesday the commission’s plan to consider the matter.

The resolutions respectively designate the Drake as a historic building, recommend approval of a historic area plan to the city’s Metropolitan Development Commission and adopt the building into the Marion County Register of Historic Places.

The measures must be approved by the city’s Metropolitan Development Commission, which is expected to hear them Oct. 2.

If approved by the MDC, they would become binding—effectively giving the city final say on what can be done with the building, including whether it can be demolished, as desired by the museum.

Bill Browne, president of the IHPC, said the city told the museum it might be willing to offer incentives for any redevelopment project tied to the building, particularly if it meant saving the structure.

“I think there are some financial incentives that are likely possible through the city in association with … reuse of the building,” he said. “Hopefully, that could create an opportunity to help” with the redevelopment of the property.

The apartment building has been owned by the museum since 2012. The museum announced in late July it planned to tear down the building and another property it owns to make way for new facilities. The Drake property would temporarily be used as a parking lot.

IHPC Administrator Meg Purnsley said officials with the commission, the Department of Metropolitan Development and the mayor’s office met with Children’s Museum representatives on Aug. 12, after IBJ reported on the museum’s plans.

The museum requested one week to respond to questions raised during the meeting, but the city has not yet received those answers four weeks later, she said.

Brian Statz, vice president of operations for the museum, said in a written statement to IBJ that the museum was “unaware of a request for information about the Drake from IHPC.”

Tim Ochs, an attorney with Ice Miller who represents the museum, asked the commission to delay a vote on the resolutions to give it more time to examine—and potentially add to—the proposed preservation plan.

“There seems to be a sense of real urgency, as if this were an emergency, but we, respectfully, disagree,” he said, adding that the museum would commit to not moving forward with any demolition plans for the project.

Purnsley said museum officials told the city it planned to demolish the building as early as October.

Ochs said the museum was only made aware on Tuesday of the IHPC’s plans to seek protections for the Drake building. He also said the museum did not have enough information at its disposal to determine its views about the historic nature of the building.

“We, quite frankly, haven’t had quite enough time to digest this (historic preservation plan), and we think it can be better, with a little bit of effort,” Ochs said .

Several members of the commission—and staff members—said they didn’t believe there would be any downside to designating the building as historic on Wednesday, versus waiting until the October meeting as requested by the museum.

Board member James Kienle said he considers the structure “probably the most important historic apartment building in the city.”

The historic preservation plan approved by the IHPC calls for a concerted effort to maintain the Drake’s structure and 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 standard for properties the city considers to be historically significant.

A move by the city to save a historic building is relatively rare.

The last building it kept from demolition was the St. John United Church of Christ in Cumberland, which was protected in 2009 and is now being converted into a not-for-profit headquarters.

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.

If approved by the MDC, future development or demolition of the Drake would fall under the purview of the IHPC.

The museum has said renovating the former luxury apartment building would be too costly. 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.

Following the meeting, Statz said “what happened was not unexpected,” and said the museum is “absolutely” committed to finding an appropriate plan for the Drake.

“We just look forward to working with the IHPC and the city in the coming weeks to try and work out a solution,” he said. “We’ll be happy to speak with them.”

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17 thoughts on “Historic preservation commission votes to protect Drake Apartments

  1. They did the right thing for sure. And with regard to moving quickly, there’s no question that quick action was needed. As a long-time preservationist, I can recall countless examples when important, historic structures were demolished just days after the decision, sometimes even in the dark of night to avoid controversy.

    1. So who pays for it?

      All this does is make sure it sits there long enough to crumble by itself…

      Are you going to pony up the 10+ million to restore it and then make it rent controlled so no one makes any money on it?

    2. Janes, the non-profit Indiana Landmarks (which retains a legal easement on the adjacent lot), spent two years assisting the TCM suggesting redevelopment options involving financing with tax credits and grants, and the TCM rejected all the proposals. Indiana Landmarks also found a developer willing to pay to redevelop the proportion as a hotel with TCM maintains ownership but TCM refused to seriously review the proposal and just said it was not “feasible,” so the developer walked away.

      I guess now that TCM’s little parking lot plans have been basically shot down, they will now have to go back and reconsider all the alternatives they refused to seriously consider.

  2. The Children’s Museum is one of the best of its kind in the country and obviously has lots of uses in mind to continue to add to its reputation and enhance our city further. Instead a bunch of people with NO plans and NO ideas get in the way of progress just because something is old. What is the great history behind this building that merits saving it and getting in the way of progress like this?

    1. TCM’s plan for the property is a parking lot. Regardless, it’s not just the building but also the location on Meridian Street.

    2. Michael – keep in mind that the museum provided no plans and no firm ideas for the tract other than for use as a parking lot. It was “trust us, we’ll do something nice someday.” Yes, the CM is a fine institution of high quality. But to knock down a highly visible, handsome period building without confirmed information about what would replace it is too much of a stretch – even from the CM.

    3. The “progress” that TCM is proposing is a parking lot. If they just knock down the Salvation Army building and make a parking lot around the base of The Drake, they’ll probably get about 200 spaces. The footprint of The Drake is tiny and off on the southern edge of this combined property, if they also knock it down, TCM might net 10 more spaces in the parking lot. That doesn’t make a lick of difference to TCM compared to the historical significance of The Drake to the Meridian corridor.

    4. The TCM’s “plans” were a parking lot. There ARE developers interested in the property. One developer proposed a hotel redevelopment using the building, and the TCM just said it was not “feasible” and flatly refused to consider the proposal, so it course, the developer walked away. I guess the TCM will now have to get serious about considering redevelopment proposals.

  3. Thinking outside the box. Perhaps the front of the Drake could be preserved and provide a facade for a parking garage. They always seem to need parking at the Children’s MuseumTaking it one step further, when I visited Jackson Hole Wyoming they did something interesting with the parking garage across from our hotel. Instead of looking at concrete, the parking garage added a vertical garden. This not only provides produce but also employs individuals with varying abilities and the view from our hotel was beautiful. Here is a video of how the vertical garden came about. A win-win for everyone.

    1. While thoughtful in suggesting the re-use of the front façade of the Drake, this would be what one of my professors in architecture school, a facadomy. They do a lot of it on the east coast and it really isn’t true to nature of the structure. Also a parking structure on that constricted site would be costly and not very useable. You need more space for the inclined ramps to move cars up and down from floor to floor.
      This whole episode really makes me re-think my opinion of the Children’s museum and those that are on the board and run it. Anyone that would make a decision as questionable as this are not the kind of people you generally want running something as prestigious as the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

  4. Bravo to Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission and I do hope that the MDC acts swiftly to put the kibosh on plans to tear it down.

    The Meridian Street corridor needs restoration and preservation. When we visit Europe, we see the result of preserving history. I know, this is not the Notre Dame Cathedral — but it is a marvelous building that celebrates the Art Deco era. It is well worth preserving Meridian’s splendor.

  5. So much of the past glory that was wealthy, residential, Meridian Street has disappeared in the name of progress. Look at Meridian between 18th and Fall Creek. So many buildings and homes demolished for bars, fast-food, and empty car dealerships.

    Can’t we take a little time and effort to see if demolishing this building is really the right option before the building is gone and it’s too late?

  6. A previous IBJ article pointed out something about the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ plans that keeps being omitted. The museum’s financial policy is to raise the entire funds for future projects before they can begin. They do plan to use it for programming in the future. “Programming” in museum lingo would be a future facility for exhibits. Given the proximity of the Drake to the rest of the museum’s programming property, it’s obviously that it will not be a parking lot for long. Fundraising on large projects can take several years, though, and they typically don’t announce anything about future projects until the funds have been raised to pay for it. The Drake, as is, will not be a practical space for museum programming. A hotel isn’t really needed by the museum, and there’s not enough need nearby to draw enough people to be financially feasible.

    Just as another example of how projects at the museum typically work, you can look to the sports experience area. That land previously had several structures that were torn down and turned into, guess what, a parking lot. Funds were raised, then they announced the development of the site for the Sports Experience. Construction commenced, and it’s now a lovely space that benefits visitors but also the nearby neighborhood children that can participate in activities at the facility.

    People interested in preserving the Drake need to really think about a proposal that fits with the museum’s needs and goals. They are a nonprofit that provides education and entertainment for children, not an apartment or hotel operator. The museum will never be interested in such projects. The property is in a valuable location for the museum. If office space wasn’t financially feasible, then could the building be used for programming in some way? The museum may be a business, but they are a nonprofit, so they must raise funds for any project; therefore, any project has to fit within their mission and be attractive to donors. I have yet to see any proposals which can satisfy those fundamental requirements.

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