Plans for a rooftop space at the Madam Walker Legacy Center are officially underway.
The Madam Walker Legacy center unveiled plans for a newly renovated outdoor rooftop venue on June 23 during the second annual Legacy Fest. The outdoor venue will be repurposed as an “economically viable and sustainable” concert and community gathering space as part of the soon-to-be-announced 2023 strategic plan, Kristian Little-Stricklen, president of the Madam Walker Legacy Center, told the Recorder.
“Our goal is that as a building and as an organization, everything that we do was first and foremost to preserve Madam Walker but then to also make sure it was sustainable,” Little-Stricklen said. “And while we know that we are an intimate space, we know that we need to be relevant, and we want to make sure that we’re doing that by being an option and provide and offer similar things that you can find, you know, in other areas.”
The rooftop concert venue and community gathering space has been a goal of the Madam Walker Legacy Center since 2020 and was included in the strategic plan for that year, Little-Stricklen said. However, the $10 million the center received from the endowment for renovations went entirely to the building’s structural repairs, and she said they ended up having to put the rooftop renovations on hold.
Now that the Walker Legacy Center has been fully up and running on the other side of the pandemic, Little-Stricklen said it was the perfect time to revisit the rooftop space, as having indoor and outdoor options for guests and community members is imperative. Little-Stricklen said the Walker Center applied for a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and was awarded $250,000 as a seed fund.
Of course, rooftop venues are not new, Little-Stricklen said. But coming out of the pandemic, having the option for an accessible indoor and outdoor space that includes a rooftop space is not only convenient but becoming wildly popular.
“What we’re doing is very similar to what other venues around the city, but specifically in Downtown Indianapolis, are doing, and we are the only Black-owned venue in Downtown Indianapolis — like, historic venue,” she said. “There’s been a lot of conversation over the last several years around revitalizing, specifically even the Indiana Avenue; we have the Cultural Trail that is in its final stages, and … we want to be able to offer cultural opportunities, open this up to the community as well as it being an additional rental option.”
Plus, everything the Walker Center offers is cultural, Little-Stricklen added. Being a historical Black-owned business, Stricklen said the center should provide “those same kinds of high-quality options” to the Black community that the businesses downtown do.
However, the first step in bringing the roof of the historic building into the 21st century is making sure it is safe and that the roof can sustain having people on it, Little-Stricklen said. They are currently finalizing the feasibility study and are in the initial phases of design plans. Even though they have secured the $250,000 seed fund from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Fund, Stricklen said additional funding will be needed to complete the project.
Once the funding is secured, Little Stricklen said the project would likely take about six months to complete.
Nichole Wilson, chairman of the board of the Madam Walker Legacy Center, said so much was lost on Indiana Avenue, and while what once existed cannot be recreated, they can make a commitment to continue to elevate the spaces they have left on the Avenue.
“It’s not sufficient for Madam Walker Legacy Center to simply survive, the building and the organization must thrive,” Wilson said. “Having the rooftop space will be a representative of the organization and the building thriving and using all aspects of the assets that we have to bring Black culture and gathering spaces for our community.”
Wilson said plans for the rooftop space include an area for programming and events as well as a space where the community can gather together and host their own events for family and friends.
“We are really focused as a board with trying to bring back the life that used to be within the building and all the avenue. The building is open to the public for people to use, as well, and we’re just excited that we have worked through the past several years to make sure that the Madam Walker Legacy Center continues to be a thriving pillar on Indiana Avenue, representing Black culture, representing all that Madam stood for.”
Beyond the Walker Center is the recently announced redevelopment of Indiana Avenue through Reclaim Indiana Avenue, Urban Legacy Lands Initiative and Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD). The City of Indianapolis acknowledging the value in not only the Walker Center but in Indiana Avenue as a whole is exciting and brings hope about what could be, Little-Stricklen said.
Mayor Joe Hogsett even referred to the Walker Center as the “Crown Jewel” of the avenue, and Little-Stricklen said anything that comes alongside the Walker Center to help “revive some cultural relevancy” is a positive thing.
“We are being very intentional in what and how we move forward so that we can ensure the sustainability of this business, of this organization, so that we can also make sure that we’re making a true impact, you know, here in this community,” Little-Stricklen said.
However, coming up in the near future, the Madam Walker Legacy Center will be hosting its annual Summer Institute beginning July 10, Jazz on the Ave on July 28, its Quarterly Art on the Ave on Aug. 8, and an open house on Oct. 20. For more information about these events and the rooftop renovations, visit madamwalkerlegacycenter.com.
Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.