When Indianapolis Cultural Trail leaders gathered the media on Virginia Avenue today for a press conference, Big Car executive director Jim Walker, the impresario of downtown’s culture scene, happened to be in the neighborhood. “I joked, ‘Are you guys announcing an extension to Garfield Park?’” he says. Walker serves on Garfield’s neighborhood association board and is relocating Big Car there and opening a music store, too. Both buildings are on Shelby Street just south of Fountain Square, where the Cultural Trail ends.
Walker knew better—the announcement covered an economic-impact study released by the IU Public Policy Institute, the headline being that property values along the trail have increased 148 percent since its 2008 groundbreaking (Eli Lilly alone got $60 million richer)—but he wasn’t really joking. He’s part of a vocal effort to convince the Cultural Trail organizers to extend the urban recreation path to the near-southside neighborhood and perhaps even farther, to the University of Indianapolis. “I know our businesses down here would be able to look at what happened on Virginia and Mass Ave, and how these things have resulted in so much value and great return, and any kind of delays or challenges that would come from the construction would be well worth it,” Walker says.
The Cultural Trail is fielding interest from multiple neighborhoods for expansion, but Garfield got a plug in IU’s report: “Additional legs of the Trail leading to Garfield Park and the University of Indianapolis campus would be a welcome addition for the Fountain Square business owners. One owner commented that runners from the University of Indianapolis run to the Fountain Square area daily and that extending the Trail to the University would increase the impact that the Trail has made on the neighborhood. They also felt that connecting the Trail to Garfield Park would give the Garfield Park area a much needed boost for revitalization, similar to what the Trail has done for Fountain Square.”
If you are betting (your real-estate investment money) where the Cultural Trail might extend to next, Garfield seems like a solid option. The ingredients are there. The blighted area along Shelby seems like a natural candidate for the kind of renaissance that Virginia Avenue has enjoyed. Why not extend the indie coolness of Fletcher Place and Fountain Square on down the road to cultural and community-oriented Garfield Park? The area already has a proven track record among bikers. There’s a protected bike lane called a “connector” running between the end of the Cultural Trail in Fountain Square to the Pleasant Run greenway, about a mile-and-a-half away. “But that doesn’t have the same kind of economic impact that having the trail go down Shelby Street would,” Walker says.
But don’t go flipping houses in Garfield Park just yet. It’s easy to see West or East Washington Street, East 10th Street, and West 16th Street benefiting from trail extensions. Plus, any expansion will take a lot of time. “We’ve had some good discussions with leaders about potential expansions,” says trail executive director Karen Haley. “We need to look at what the data from the report tells us, where the trail could make the most impact. We’d have to identify some funding. A lot has to fall into place.”
And for all of Garfield’s good-on-paper potential, there are barriers. The main one is the pedestrian-unfriendly intersection at Shelby and Raymond streets. An I-65 off-ramp feeds a lot of high-speed traffic to that intersection, making it treacherous to cross, Walker says. But he remembers when navigating Mass Ave, Michigan Street, and New Jersey Street downtown felt like a live-action game of Frogger, too. “You had to run across four lanes of traffic, had to time the light going down Michigan,” he says. “Now, you can walk out of the Rathskeller and wander down Mass Ave and go to a concert at the Murat.” Or, if you own property near there, you can stay home and recalculate your home’s appreciation.