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.”