Friday, August 14, 2009

OTR Peptalk. How things can change.

There has been alot said about recent proposals for changes to building codes, permits and inspection issues in OTR in an effort to help jump start the area and the indifference of city officials (Whom I hope all of will be voted out or fired after the elections) can be disheartening.

I was speaking to someone who is involved in OTR on the phone the other day and they asked y come here? The city doesn't give a damn, the investors have blocks of this neighborhood locked down? Why do it? why come to OTR? why Not stay in Indy where things are nice and restored ?"

And I replied to him, "If people don't come, nothing will happen. OTR and the city needs preservationist who have done this before, know how to sway public opinion AGAINST city officials who are in the way and know how to put pressure on the Investor types, who are sitting around doing nothing" Besides Indy is complete. All the really great buildings and neighborhoods are restored. Its time for new challenge.. I see the OTR you can't see because you are too close to the issue right now. I've done this before.

So my OTR peptalk. Indianapolis wasn't always known as one of the cleanest cities in the country with Museums and entertainment venues everywhere. The urban core of Indy was very much like OTR. Run down , abandoned buildings, drug dealing , homeless and prostitution. Not to say those problems still aren't around but they moved out of the city core.

Many people like to take credit for the Mass avenue turnaround. Credit where credit is due it was a few local preservationist and the gay community that began the Mass avenue turnaround. the first "Major" restoration on the upper end of Mass was the Metro at 707 Mass Ave. When the gay bar opened the community soon followed and the houses in Chatham arch were bought up by gay couples and preservationists who saw the value in the area. Before long there were 3 Gay Bars in the area and other bars and shops followed. Metro still is around today and upscale bar frequented not only by the gay community but local residents as well. The building features an incredible Victorian back bar and period interior finishes. They took the first financial risk and they deserve credit for that.

The building had a total top to bottom restoration and is still a focal point today.

Below: This is what the 700 block of Mass looked like in 1990, vacant abandoned.

Flash forward to today same block now filled with trendy shops.

Once Vacant historic buildings that many said should be bulldozed that no one would ever want:

Now High end shops and living spaces. Highly desirable and contributing to the taxbase.

An old closed Pawn shop:

Now one of the most Exclusive restaurants in town "Scholars Inn"

Back then non contributing structure and vacant lots:

Today Million Dollar condos and shops:

Were it not for preservationist and people with 'vision' who bought run down houses in Chatham Arch and Lockerbie, Mass Ave might not be here today. They got the ball rolling. Trust me there are a lot more people fighting for OTR than EVER fought for Mass Avenue in Indianapolis. We will see a revitalized OTR, its going to seem impossible but in a few years we will all look back and say, remember when?


Anonymous said...

Having grown up in Indy I disagree with your take on things.

I won't argue that it was simply preservationist and gays that brought Mass Ave. to its current state, but the facts are not that simple. There was a lot of official support once it was realized that this could be "cultural asset" to the city.

That is my biggest beef. When I was in high school I used to chill at the building you site above as being non-contributing. It was the center of the community. That, post-demo, has not been restored.

I feel like you have moved on because these efforts failed to create a community worth investing more than money into. It is such a dry and boring place. It is so predictable and like so many other post "revitalized" downtowns.

Please don't apply that model here.

Paul Wilham said...

You are refferring to the abbey building and I meant 'non contributing' in the sense of its architecture. I used to stop into the abbey often. But the building was surrounded by large tracts of vacant lots and That corner was likely to only be developed as part of a larger project.

There is a certain "business reality' where Abbey was concerned and it was not run well from a business standpoint, always struggled and wound up moving because it couldnt survive in a higher rent area. That is capitalism and competitive business at work. They simply could not afford the rents in the new building, 12-15 k a month, for that large a space on mass now, nor would they likely be able to compete with starbucks down the street. Thats just business. Yeah it was a fun place to hang out but it never made money.

And no the city wasn't always responsive. I was there in the early 90's trying to get the city more interested and it was only after those early efforts and the fact the city realized it could be restored and generate taxes that they got behind it.They were trying to get the circle city mall developed and really were not interested for years.

While I liked the abbey and I certainly am not a big fan of the building that replaced it. They didnt have a good business model. Metro is still there, Theatre on the Square is still there. Pheonix is still there on Park. Those businesses survived because of a good business model.

Yeah, abbey coffee house was a fun place but times do change. Just like I bet the upscale bar that is there now will be replaced by something else in a few years. That's just business. Times change, interests change. Thats why that building which was originally a drug store and soda fountain didnt survive, its about business.

And unfortunatly restoration and new construction doesn't come cheap which means rents do go up, that's just reality. But I dont miss the winos and prostitutes and pawn shops that used to populate mass ave, it's a much better place now.