Change the City: Build a Coalition

As the executive director of Midtown Indianapolis, Michael McKillip is quick to dispel the notion that he is responsible for the fabulous new Tarkington Park at 39th and Illinois Streets. But it probably wouldn’t exist without him. When he became the nonprofit’s first full-time employee in 2012, Midtown had just begun researching how the sleepy green space might be reimagined. McKillip knew he wasn’t going to transform a huge swath of the city (some of which had a 33 percent vacancy rate) on his own. So he began calling every nearby institution that might have a stake in the project.
The results of those efforts speak for themselves. Since Tarkington Park opened in January, the futuristic-looking playground has been mobbed with families. When the splash park fires up next month, it will only boost the private investment already on the way. Happy Brewing plans to open a microbrewery in the old Double 8 Foods building across from the park by June. Contractors recently submitted bids to redevelop the aging United Way building nearby into a mixed-use apartment site. And Midtown itself is moving into the historic Concord Building on 38th Street to renovate it and attract tenants.
Nonprofits hoping to replicate that success should cast a wide net. “Don’t let historical boundaries dictate how you operate,” McKillip says. “In Midtown, there have been many lines across which people didn’t used to communicate. North and south of 38th Street considered themselves different universes. But presuming that someone would or would not have been interested in collaborating would have been a mistake.” And when approaching potential partners, sell the mutual benefit. For example, Midtown recently launched a housing-rehabilitation program that caught the attention of large employers in the area with an interest in offering their employees a realistic neighborhood in which to live near work. “You can’t just ask an institution to do something for you,” says McKillip. Instead, think as a team player. “It was never about what we were able to do on our own,” he says. “A small organization can do a lot with a few partnerships.”