Projects spur renaissance of North Mass, once considered eyesore of city’s past

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North Mass Boulder, a gym and climbing-wall facility at the Box Factory, shows how former industrial space is being put to new uses. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

For decades, the corridor southeast of the I-70/I-65 north split—an area packed with aging industrial properties and disconnected from adjacent neighborhoods by the interstates—seemed like it might be an exception to redevelopment efforts expanding from downtown.

Muhamed Becovic

“It’s [been] an eyesore,” said Muhamed Becovic, a developer and owner of Fishers-based Becovic Management Group. “It’s closed off, and everything is overgrown. … That’s all made it look like an area that’s definitely not the right place for growth.”

But in the past decade, the area—now called North Mass—has grown into one of the region’s hot spots, in part because a handful of developers is embracing the area’s industrial roots.

Tens of millions of dollars have been spent to create unique office and retail spaces since 2015, and plenty more is coming down the pike from groups that include Teagen Properties, which owns Circle City Industrial Complex at 1125 Brookside Ave., and a partnership of Indianapolis firms Third Street Ventures, Stenz Corp., and Pure Development, which in 2021 completed extensive renovations to the Box Factory at 1141 Roosevelt Ave.

In fact, nearly $250 million of investment in the area (generally bounded by 10th Street to the south, Rural Street to the east, and the interstate to the north and west) is planned over the next three years, with much of that capital focused on making the area an apartment hot spot and bringing more office users to the corridor.

Becovic Management Group is planning a $92 million project with 298 apartments and a 600-space parking garage in the North Massachusetts Avenue corridor. (Rendering courtesy of Charlan Brock Architects)

Even Becovic—who has owned about 10 acres between Lewis and Yandes streets, north of Roosevelt, since 2012—is getting in on the action. His plans call for a nearly 300-unit apartment project with 600 parking spaces and first-floor retail, an investment expected to surpass $92 million. And he expects to spend millions more on other nearby projects once that development, known as Connect, is finished.

“I believe those attitudes” about North Mass being too far gone to save, Becovic said, “are going to change once they see all the plans and all this investment going in there.”

Outside the box

Since launching their $25 million effort to repurpose the former U.S. Corrugated Box Co. building just before the pandemic, developers Pure Development, Third Street Ventures and Stenz have seen a boom in interest in not only the circa 1920 building but also other parcels they control along the North Mass corridor.

The group is planning to spend nearly $120 million on three projects in the coming years, all of which would be adjacent to the Box Factory. That includes a 185-unit apartment development called The Ingram; the adaptive reuse of existing buildings for another 36,000 square feet of office and retail space at Penn Electric; and a new, 100,000-square-foot building called North Mass Timber that will be focused on office users.

Beau Ansty

Stenz President Beau Ansty said efforts to revitalize the North Mass corridor have been slowly gaining steam for years, boosted by the success of the nearby Bottleworks District complex just southwest, on the west side of the I-65/I-70 split, which opened in late 2020.

Pure Development, Stenz, law firm Lewis Wagner and the Indianapolis office of event promoter LiveNation have moved their operations to the neighborhood. In addition, the popular North Mass Boulder fitness center and café opened in June 2021 in about 50,000 square feet at the Box Factory.

But even before Bottleworks, work was underway at the Circle City Industrial Complex, a 540,000-square-foot complex just north of 10th Street along Brookside Avenue.

Larry Jones, owner of Teagen Development, bought the building in 2015 and has slowly been renovating the spaces. Today, it boasts more than 175 tenants—many of which are artists and smaller users, although there are some restaurants, breweries and other retailers.

The 500 Festival—which sold its building downtown late last year—recently confirmed plans to move to the complex early next year.

Jones said he will continue to invest in the property in the coming years. He plans to spend about $25 million to revamp the building’s southernmost section—about 100,000 square feet—into a food hall, maker’s studio and event space. Jones compared the plans to The Amp food hall that is part of a complex called HqO at the 16 Tech Innovation District near IUPUI, although he expects his project to feature retail and office space.

Up the road, McNamara Florists has had its primary warehousing operations and offices near Rural Street for nearly eight years. Likewise, Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie debuted to great fanfare in 2019, at about the same time work on Box Factory was getting underway.

Ed Battista

“We’ve been really conscious about striking a balance and have worked really hard to be a community partner with everyone,” said Ed Battista, who owns Kan-Kan with his father, Tom, and father-son duo Sam and Ben Sutphin. The Battistas also own Amelia’s Bread, which has multiple locations across the city, including at 1637 Nowland Ave.

Ed Battista said the many projects underway in the area, including the Circle City Industrial Complex projects, are indicators that the neighborhood is finally building some steam.

“I guess that people are finally noticing the area, but there’s been a lot of work and effort here over the years,” he said. “It’s nice to see organic development going on that celebrates the neighborhood. The people that are involved don’t feel big and corporate.”

A big shift

Changing long-standing perceptions isn’t something that will happen overnight, though. After all, the area has long been viewed as blighted thanks to the decline of major industrial users and the subsequent loss of thousands of jobs on the east side.

In 2015, the John H. Boner Community Center and other community organizations sought to combat the east side’s decline (including the area now known as North Mass) with creation of the IndyEast Promise Zone, the result of partnerships with the city and more than 20 organizations.

The zone is a federal designation that helps organizations bring new investment and opportunities to communities that are historically marginalized or overlooked for economic and community development opportunities. It has distributed nearly $240 million in federal funding through 40 community partners.

And while James Taylor, CEO of the Boner Community Center, which administers the Promise Zone, acknowledged the designation has been helpful for numerous projects across the east side, the program will sunset in 2025. To replace it, the Boner Center in 2021 helped establish a designation called the East Side Economic Recovery & Mobility District, a partnership of the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood (north of North Mass), near-east-side neighborhood groups and Southeast Neighborhood Development.

“Frankly, we’re still seeing the benefit of the Promise Zone because we’ve developed social capital and knowledge and neighborhood goodwill through administering the program,” Taylor said. “The knowledge is being transferred, but that intellectual capacity is not only embedded within us but other community groups on the east side.”

The now-defunct Riley Area Development Corp. was also involved in efforts to continue rebuilding the North Mass corridor—even giving the area its current name in 2017, as part of an effort to jump-start growth.

Likewise, Local Initiatives Support Corp. of Indianapolis has helped support various projects along Massachusetts Avenue, including a $4.1 million loan to Teagen Development that aided the revamp of the Circle City Industrial Complex project as well as the funding for Riley’s rebrand of the area.

Taylor said he and others continue to see the North Mass corridor reap the rewards of those endeavors by LISC and the Riley Area Development Corp.–and those who want to set down roots in the area continue to seek collaboration with neighborhood leaders.

“From a neighborhood perspective, you can always do more, right?” he said. “But Riley Area Development Corp. played a very active role … in helping to set the stage for all this and was something of a catalyst to get things moving in this area. And it’s continued to develop, and we continue to interact with developers who want to engage this community—particularly when they’re looking for city support.”

Ansty said one goal is to make North Mass a converging point for neighborhoods like Martindale-Brightwood to the north, Cottage Home and Woodruff Place to the south and Windsor Park, which runs along Massachusetts Avenue.

“We definitely see the neighborhoods as allies in this, because all want to see this area be a vibrant place,” he said. “We’re all together trying to make this into a unique pocket of Indianapolis.”

Seeking better access

But to achieve that, Ansty and city officials acknowledge the area needs to continue to grow—something that can only happen through continued investment and improved connectivity. The latter is especially important because construction of the interstates decades ago cut off several streets that once connected neighborhoods.

At one time, for example, Lewis Street ran uninterrupted from Massachusetts Avenue to 16th Street. Today, the road abruptly stops part way between the western leg of Roosevelt and 13th Street, picking up again to go under the highway.

The city plans to rebuild Lewis Street and 13th Street as part of its incentive package for Becovic’s project, which also received $3 million in direct tax-increment-financing bonds. So far, the city has committed at least $33 million to three upcoming projects in the next few years.

To support continued private and public investments, the city last month created an economic development area that encompasses North Mass from about the Monon Trail east toward Commerce Avenue (which runs under the interstate, connecting neighborhoods) and from 10th to 16th streets. The designation allows the city to pool tax-increment gains from the area to deploy future incentives for private development as well as infrastructure projects.

“The North Mass corridor is this complicated place, both from its industrial legacy and because the interstate that had kind of cut off some of the connectivity to Martindale-Brightwood,” said Emily Scott, administrator of community and economic development for the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development.

“Some of the work that’s happening there now will also help the city [make] some infrastructure improvements that are needed and restore some future connectivity between” these neighborhoods, she said.

Reconnecting Lewis Street could mean easier access to the area for residents and workers who have taken to spots like the Wesmont Apartments along the Monon Trail. The area also includes Tinker House Events, an event center and coffee shop at 1101 E. 16th St., along with offices for tech firm Lessonly and the nearly completed Polk Stables redevelopment.

Likewise, the city is continuing to invest in expansion of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which feeds into the Monon along with Pogue’s Run Trail which runs from 10th Street to Pogue’s Run through three parks.

CCIC’s Jones said he hopes that connectivity goes a bit farther, with the city improving access within North Mass itself to make it easier for his and other tenants in the area to access the amenities the neighborhood has to offer.

In fact, the developer said he’d like the city to consider working with CSX to reestablish a railroad crossing at Newman Street to allow traffic easier access to the developments north of the tracks, without having to use either Columbia or Commerce avenues. The city hasn’t said whether it is considering the idea.

Limited walking and biking access in North Mass—largely due to the tracks and interstates—is The Box Factory’s “biggest hurdle, because it’s oddly landlocked, but highly visible,” Jones said.

Stenz’s Ansty said the development team behind Box Factory is continuing to work with Jones and other developers like Becovic to ensure they’re all on the same page about a “shared vision” for the North Mass corridor. They all told IBJ they’re also interested in continuing to work with neighbors to ensure their voices are heard in the process.

“We’re not really trying to be anything [in particular]—these are just existing buildings, and we thought there was a higher and better use for them than just being vacant warehouse space,” Ansty said. “This is just part of the natural progression of Mass Ave moving out to the east.”•

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7 thoughts on “Projects spur renaissance of North Mass, once considered eyesore of city’s past

    1. We definitely missed a chance to do something bold just to add more steel and concrete. It’s more intrusive now than it was before. With a little more effort they could have reconnected the neighborhood. I hope the do better when they do the south split but I’m not hopeful.

    2. Yes, it would cost money to do something else.

      By spending that money, you’re bringing a large amount of money back onto the property tax rolls.

      What we are currently doing is prioritizing out of state through traffic and people who don’t live in Marion County.

      If you’re driving through, take I465. If you want to take surface streets to go through, pay a toll.

      For those driving in from the donut counties, there should be spur roads that get you 90% of the way there. Tear out I-70 westbound somewhere west of Emerson and make it a boulevard.

  1. The City (DMD?) should be exploring a comprehensive “way finding” overlay for the area to include:
    13th St gateway at the Monon in addition to a Lewis St connection.

    A more pronounced entrance to the Monon from 10th St – with lighting and maps.

    Columbia St.crossing the RR tracks should be upgraded and made safer for bikes. Maybe an entrance into CCIC at the same point.

    1. Agreed! We ride our bike through this area all the time. INEXPENSIVE additions should be added to grow a walkable and bike friendly zone. That’s the big appeal of living in this area.

  2. I wish they could have done more get that neighborhood “connection” feel, but a 17B budget to move the north split was never going to happen. What they built changed nothing. Buy the real estate now because either way the area is blowing up. It’s already trending into Brookside Park.

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