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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Staff: The Devil is in the details

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The city, along with two other community entities, recently announced a new initiative to revitalize the area around Indiana Avenue. Mayor Joe Hogsett said the plan will “honor the rich history of the Avenue” with an eye on developing its considerable assets.

City-County Council President Vop Osili went so far as to say this opportunity offers a chance to envision a future “that would make all of our grandparents proud.”
We certainly hope so. But the question remains: What’s taken so long?

As with many other ambitious plans, the Devil is in the details.

Following the cultural heydays in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, the area of Indiana Avenue from roughly Capitol Street north-westward witnessed considerable decline. By the late 1960s, the decline was nearly complete.

Gone were the heady days of Black entertainment and Black businesses – from store shops to cleaners, from clubs to gambling dens, from the offices of the Indianapolis Recorder to the headquarters of local manufacturing.

In the 1980s, many of the buildings from West Street onward were torn down and replaced with office buildings and townhouses. Even the Walker Theater, for a time, was closed.

The Walker Legacy Center today stands as a solitary sentry of a glorious past.
Since the early 2000s, a number of individual developers have announced various visions to revitalize the area, including plans for hotel space and other upscale businesses. But without a unifying vision, mostly from the city, little has come of any of it.

Not having a Crystal Ball handy, it is much too early to see if this new push will bear fruit, or whether, like so many previous efforts, it will die on the vine and fall away, leaving the area bereft of the color and charm that drew virtually every Black jazz great to Indiana Avenue from the 1930s to the 1960s.

But we will be watching closely in the coming months with the hope that, 50 years hence, future city residents will say current residents and city officials mustered the necessary vision, political will and financial foresight to elevate the Avenue to the cultural destination it once was.

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