Plan for major apartment project next to Walker Theatre moves ahead

The majority of the project would front the north side of Indiana Avenue, northwest of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. (Image courtesy city of Indianapolis)

A massive five-story, apartment project planned directly northwest of the historic Madam Walker Legacy Center is expected to cost about $70 million and feature nearly 350 units and a parking structure.

Indianapolis-based Buckingham Cos. wants to tear down the three-story Walker Plaza building at 719 Indiana Avenue to make way for the proposed development, according to documents submitted to the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development in late July. Walker Plaza is a 30,000-square-foot Class B office building that was built in 1989.

Plans for the new complex call for about 344 apartment units ranging from studios to three bedrooms (along with several co-dwelling units), as well as first-floor retail space on its western side.

In its filings, Buckingham said it expected the complex would be occupied by “a large percentage” of students due to the proximity of the IUPUI campus, directly south of Indiana Avenue.

The 2.6-acre property is owned by the Madam Walker Legacy Center, but Buckingham has the site under contract. The firm was selected to redevelop the property during a request-for-proposals process completed in early 2019.

Lacy Johnson, chairman of the center’s real estate committee, said the apartments would likely be offered at market-rate prices.

Johnson said the proposed project “will spur additional development in the area” and matches the vision shared for the site by Walker’s board of directors.

“I’ve been around long enough to remember when Indiana Avenue was vibrant—it was a hub of entertainment not just for the Black community, but for this city,” he said. “It is my belief and hope that that that development will bring back entertainment along Indiana Avenue, as well as some restaurants and other retail.”

Floor plans show the ground level would have 30 apartments, a cafe and an unspecified amount of retail space. The second and fourth floors would each have 79 apartment units, while the third and fifth floors would have 78. In all, the yet-unnamed development would have 169 studio apartments, 32 one-bedroom units, 134 two-bedroom units, four three-bedroom units and five co-dwelling units.

Co-dwelling units are apartments that have separate bathroom and bedroom areas for different sets of residents, with a shared living and kitchen area.

The Buckingham project would have two distinct sections: a long street front on Indiana Avenue spanning about 500 feet, and a thinner portion that bumps out to the northeast to front Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. A parking structure of indeterminate size would be built to the rear of the site, wrapped on nearly all four sides by apartments, a site plan indicates.

IBJ first reported the project in mid-July, but most details were not yet available in public documents. Buckingham has declined to comment on the project, which is not unusual for large-scale developments going through the city approval process.

Buckingham is committed to using a minimum of 40% minority-owned contractors on the project, including its architectural and engineering components, said Johnson.

The firm is the primary developer behind the CityWay project near Bankers Life Fieldhouse and owns and manages a variety of other developments throughout Indianapolis.

Not everybody is sold on the development. Two remonstrators said during the Metropolitan Development Commission’s July meeting that they had not been engaged in discussions despite their proximity to the site.

One was Paula Brooks a longtime resident and former president of the Ransom Place neighborhood. She said she is not necessarily opposed to the proposed project, but hopes more conversations will occur to ensure it fits the neighborhood.

“Everybody wants a win-win situation,” she said. “We’re not against development, but we need development that serves the community, especially a community with a lot of longtime residents. And we’ve been totally ignored [by] the city for decades in terms of planning.”

Others have expressed concerns that the project may draw attention away from the neighboring Madam Walker Legacy Center, but Johnson said Buckingham’s design takes that factor into consideration. The designer on the project is the Celebration, Florida office of Memphis-based firm LRK Architects.

“We wanted to make sure that, whoever we chose to develop this project, they did not overshadow the Walker,” he said. “We did not want to dwarf that building.”

The Metropolitan Development Commission voted to approve a rezoning of the property from C-S to CBD-2, bringing the site into compliance with the city’s Regional Center Plan, which calls for a medium-density mixed-use project. The design of the project is expected to be considered by the Regional Center Hearing examiner in the coming months.

“This is our opportunity to have some new urban development that puts us in line with the rest of our city as we move forward,” Johnson said.

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