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Monday, April 12, 2021

Children’s Museum demolition hits a brick wall

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The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission voted in early September to declare the vacant Drake Apartments building on the near north side as historically significant, a move that, if ratified, will protect what used to be a luxury apartment complex.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which owns the building, kickstarted this process when it announced plans to demolish the building and temporarily turn the property into a surface parking lot before deciding what to do in the long term.

Eight of the nine members on the commission voted to add emergency protection to the building, which has been vacant for nearly three years. One member abstained from the vote.

Bill Browne, president of the commission, did not respond to requests for comment.

Brian Statz, vice president of operations at the museum, said the commission’s vote to protect the building was “not unexpected.” Before making plans to demolish, museum leadership worked with Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit that helps save and revitalize historic places, to find something to do with the building.

The children’s museum didn’t want to take on the cost — estimated in the millions — to make the necessary renovations to the building. Between that building and another vacant building next to it that used to be a Salvation Army — which the museum could still demolish — the museum pays about $200,000 a year in taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance.

The museum instead sent out a request for proposals to hotel operators. One company made a proposal, Statz said, but the company didn’t answer follow-up questions and the museum had doubts about its finances.

The request process was confidential, and Statz declined to provide details about the request or offer.

Even if it’s just temporary, the museum would have to grapple with the optics of making a surface level parking lot right next to the newly opened Red Line. Looking ahead, Statz said one possibility for permanent use of the land with the old Salvation Army on it is expanding the outdoor Sports Legends Experience.

The Metropolitan Development Commission will have to ratify the vote to give protection to the Drake Apartments building. That’s expected to happen within the next couple of months. There will also be a public hearing.

Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks, said he was “disappointed” to learn of the museum’s plans to demolish the building.

“But we also feel there are some stones left unturned in looking for a solution or alternative to demolition,” he said. “I don’t believe all options are exhausted.”

One of those options includes the city stepping in to provide economic incentives — tax abatement, for example — to a developer willing to take on the project of restoring the building.

Andrea Watts, a spokesperson for the Department of Metropolitan Development, confirmed the city could offer economic incentives to a developer and said the department has met with the museum.

The museum could also simply sell the property, and the protection would carry over to the next owner.

“The city is within its rights to do what it’s done,” Statz said. “We’re hoping to work out an arrangement that’s a win-win for the city and the community.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

The Drake Apartments building. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

Tyler Fenwick

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