Developers withdraw proposal for Mass Ave digital display

It’s back to the drawing board—again—for developers who wanted to incorporate a three-story electronic billboard into the design of their $50 million Montage on Mass mixed-use development downtown.

As Property Lines reported Monday, developers J.C. Hart Co. Inc., Strongbox Commercial and architect Schmidt Associates were prepared to present the latest iteration of their controversial “digital canvas” at Wednesday’s Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission meeting.

Montage on Mass rendering sign april 2016_15colMembers of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission panned the latest iteration of the billboard design. (Image courtesy Schmidt Associates)

But the developers chose to withdraw the design from a vote Wednesday after it became clear that commission members would not support it. That was after IHPC staff already had given the design an unfavorable recommendation.

Developers want to integrate the display into Montage on Mass to give local artists an opportunity to showcase their artwork. But IHPC members weren't convinced that the billboard was the proper medium.

“This is not the way to portray art in our community,” IHPC President Bill Browne said. “How can it be regulated? It probably can’t be and won’t be.”

The developers plan to present another version of the billboard at a later date.

They 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 to a later date.

The developers 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.

The digital canvas not only is critical to the design of the project but to the arts community in general, Wayne Schmidt of Schmidt Associates told Property Lines last week.

“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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