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Real Estate & Retail

Montage on Mass developers prepare again to push 'digital canvas'

April 4, 2016

Developers of the $50 million Montage on Mass mixed-use development downtown have revised the design of its controversial “digital canvas” in hopes of finally receiving approval for the three-story electronic billboard.

But it looks as though they still will face an uphill battle when presenting their plans Wednesday to the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. That’s because IHPC staff is recommending the canvas be denied.

Developers J.C. Hart Co. Inc., Strongbox Commercial and architect Schmidt Associates are set to build the five-story, 236-unit development on the northeast corner of Massachusetts Avenue’s intersection with North New Jersey Street.

IHPC in November approved the design of the building, which would include about 37,000 square feet of retail space, while delaying action on the electronic-mesh  display at a later date.

The developers say the purpose of the feature would be to display artworks. They separated the design of Montage on Mass and the 25-by-40-foot art display when presenting plans to IHPC, so the project could move forward without final approval of a billboard design.

Further complicating matters is that the City-County Council plans to review the city’s sign ordinance. City-County Councilor Zach Adamson, who represents the area that includes Montage on Mass, said in a March 29 letter to IHPC that approving the digital canvas would pre-empt the review.

Adamson said in his letter that he had “serious concerns” about locating such a display in a historic district.

Also seemingly working against the developers is a recommendation from IHPC staff to deny the proposal for several reasons, including the color intensity and light quality emanating from the digital feature.

“This building should fit comfortably with its iconic and more important neighbors, not call all of the visual attention to itself and visually diminish its neighbors,” IHPC staff wrote in its recommendation.

Wayne Schmidt of Schmidt Associates, however, told IBJ on Friday that the design changes made, including adjusting colors to tone down the brightness, give the canvas “really nice character and sophistication.”

The Indianapolis Arts Council will be charged with determining what artwork will be displayed. Artists would be paid by program sponsors, whose names or logos would appear on the screen on a limited basis.

“It would be people who are supportive of the art,” said Desma Belsaas, a principal at Schmidt Associates. “It wouldn’t be advertising 99-cent Whoppers.”

The digital canvas not only is critical to the design of the project but to the arts community in general, Wayne Schmidt argued.

“It would be catastrophic to lose this opportunity,” he said.

Montage on Mass is part of complicated land-swap deal involving the city and several other entities.

As part of the land swap, the Indianapolis Fire Department's headquarters—which is located on part of the Montage on Mass site—would move into the existing American Red Cross building at 441 E. 10th St. A credit union on the site also would move.

The Red Cross has moved to 1510 N. Meridian St., into its new $9.9 million, 24,000-square-foot headquarters.

A new credit union is being built to the west of the existing Firefighters Union building at 748 Massachusetts Ave., near College Avenue.

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