In 2010, Mayor Greg Ballard used bonding capacity against equity in our water/sewer utilities as well as future rate increases to fund a program that is called, Rebuild Indy. The first injection of funds came in to the tune of $55 million. It was used to jumpstart the program and largely includes resurfacing streets, repairing some sidewalks, and constructing a trail on the NW side of Indianapolis by adding a trail from Cold Springs Road to Kessler Boulevard along Michigan Road. A couple of weeks ago, $32 million more in projects were announced. Some bridge reconstruction work is planned for Meridian Street across Fall Creek as well as the Morris Street bridge over the White River on the city’s south side.
Much more work is said to be planned when and if the “sale” of the sewer/water utilities to Citizens energy is approved through the IURC who is currently deliberating on the matter. The announced sum that the city would have to spend on infrastructure (including what has been spent already) would be $425 million.
I have inquired repeatedly to the Mayor’s office about what the rest of the projects would entail and even received some off the record information regarding some specific projects. However, there doesn’t seem to be a clear intent to release all the planned on projects that Rebuild Indy plans on tackling. I’m sure there is political headache at risk for such a move.
However, and what should concern most of us living within Indianapolis urban neighborhoods, is what are planners REALLY going to do with this money to preserve and improve the quality of life for residents? The Mayor’s recent State of the City address pointed out the need to focus on our inner city neighborhoods. The census recently opened our eyes that suburban flight continues unabated in the Indianapolis area except where we have created pedestrian friendly environments. Urban Indy author Greg Meckstroth recently tackled this issue. Although there have been a few projects of noteworthy pedestrian mention such as the Michigan Road trail, the first round of Rebuild Indy projects have largely focused on simply repaving our existing roads, and restriping them in the same fashion despite repeated attempts by not only myself, but those of IndyCOG to improve our bike lane designations downtown. Furthermore, a project in my own neighborhood this summer had a Rebuild Indy sign posted and when the sidewalks were repaired, it could be debated whether or not they were repaired at all. The project aims to add bike lanes however, once the weather warms which will be a welcome addition.
Personally, it concerns me that the status quo of road design is not being examined in the least and we are borrowing money from tomorrow, to simply repair areas that in 5-10 years from now, will suffer similar breakdowns. With Complete Streets type of projects taking place in our city (Meridian/Westfield & 10th Street SB Legacy) and world class projects such as the Cultural Trail in progress, the bar has been raised. As residents, how can we not demand more for our invested dollar?
Perhaps I will be proven wrong and there is a vast plan of adding NEW sidewalks through neighborhoods that don’t currently have any. Perhaps there is another Georgia Street project lurking in the weeds that hasn’t been announced yet. Perhaps our side streets where cars speed through can be calmed so that the city has a fighting chance of attracting families with children to live in the neighborhoods that they lie within. If so, I will drop my criticism and get on board. As it stands though, I fear we are on board to spend a lot of money on projects that have an opportunity to tremendously improve the quality of life for Indianapolis’ residents, but which fail to do so.
In the fall of 2009, an infill development on the west side of downtown Indianapolis caused a stir with local urbanists. The DiRimini, or as it was called early on, Sarajo Commons, was set to take an empty lot on N. Capitol Avenue. The project is targetting IUPUI students and potential downtown dwellers. Finally, someone was stepping up to fill in one of the many vacant lots on this side of town. The parcel in particular, was located along 733 N. Capitol Avenue, a former grassly lot that had sat vacant for years.
When the initial plans were submitted to the Metropolitan Development Commission, the project looked like a win. Frontage to the street. Proper scale. Lots of windows and plenty of decoration to flesh out the buildings public faces. And located in the rear, would be parking. By all measures, a successful looking submission for this parcel. The massing is particularly strong for a small structure. 5 stories along Capitol Ave.
Fast forward 7 months to present day and a casual observation of the new development will tell you immediately that something has went wrong. The project we have recieved only vaguely resembles what was submitted to the city last year. A comparison of the recent photographs to the submitted plans shows a lack of windows. 3 stories instead of 4 along St. Clair. A massing at the corner of St Clair and Capitol that wasn’t submitted into plan, and what appears to be a moving of the upper floor into a previously open area on the roof. And while the actual construction shows what appear to be painted on stripes across the faces, the submitted renderings show what appear to be outcroppings which serve to break up an otherwise flat face that we see today on site. The renderings show what appear to be shadows under these stripes which would seem to indicate some sort of protrustion. The lack of windows is likely the largest deviation I can see that has caused a vast change of vision.
How did this happen? How could a plan that started as a promising project get turned into something that is a ghost of what was planned? Others have apparently asked the same thing. Construction has skewed so far off plan, that a work stoppage order was issued on September 9th by the Department of Code Enforcement (RE: Case #VIO10-101658). The description for this case is as follows:
FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH REGIONAL CENTER PETITION 2009-REG-029 CONDITIONS # 1, 5, 7 AND 8 AND FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH IMPROVEMENT LOCATION PERMIT ILP09-01774
Currently, the City of Indianapolis is working with the developer’s attorney to mitigate these issues. Work has since resumed on the interior as well as some drainage infrastructure but exterior work is halted pending reinspection which, according to the city’s website, is on September 28th.
Urban Indy will continue to follow this issue as it hits close to the heart of many area urban advocates.
Updates on 10/6/2010 via the IBJ: What do you think? City seems to be hedging on “NO”