This Is Happening: Five Projects Improving Indy Right Now

A few things that are already in the works.

Tarkington Park RedevelopmentWhat:

An ambitious upgrade of the 10.5-acre park at 39th and Illinois streets, where genteel Meridian-Kessler to the north meets crime-ravaged Crown Hill to the south. Plans call for a dog park, a spray plaza, a performance stage, a cafe, and six new tennis courts.
When: Work will start this fall. The goal is to finish Phase 1 (which includes the stage and spray plaza) by next summer.
How much: $12 million for the entire redesign; $5 million for Phase 1. The Lilly Endowment is providing $1 million, part of its $8 million commitment to city parks.
What’s the holdup: The funding for Phase 2, which includes the dog park and cafe, still needs to be raised.
Backstory: The mayor’s office tied the Tarkington Park project to what’s commonly called “the Whole Foods development” in Broad Ripple, essentially holding the park hostage to pressure hesitant council members to greenlight the grocery and attached apartments. It worked. The Broad Ripple building was approved, and the Midtown TIF (tax increment financing) district contributed $1 million to help defray the park’s cost.
The goal: Our councillors believe improving the park can benefit neighborhoods on both sides of 38th Street, not to mention encourage much-needed retail development in the area.
LiveIndyMayor Ballard’s LiveIndy Plan
What: A 43-page, workman-like agenda that serves up a meat-and-potatoes vision of what Indianapolis should pursue in the coming year, from education proposals (such as launching the Indianapolis Polytechnic school) to public-safety recommendations, including hiring 80 additional IMPD officers.
When: Some of the items mentioned in the plan, such as implementing a new crime-data hub, are already underway. Others won’t be finalized until 2016 or 2017.
How much: Proposals range from $9.6 million for hiring the 80 new IMPD recruits to $350 million for Rebuild Indy 2, a bid to improve the city’s ailing infrastructure, including repairing sidewalks, trails, and bridges. Other priorities, such as building a new public-safety training center, make no mention of price at all.
What’s the holdup: Police officers take time to train (the first class won’t hit the streets until 2015) and not all city councillors have been on board with Rebuild Indy 2.
Most innovative aspect of the plan:  SafeTown, an app where citizens can view crime information. The prototype rolled out earlier this year, and by 2015, it should be fully operational. The “community alerts” feature will let you see crime data in your neighborhood.
The goal: Better infrastructure and public education, and a lot less crime.
Plan 2020 Big IdeasPlan 2020
What: A plan for Indy, funded by a Lilly Endowment grant and federal dollars, that will include a set of measurable “value propositions” (the plan-writers call these “promises we’re making to residents”). City government will then take those ideas and establish goals it commits to achieving by 2021, Indy’s Bicentennial. What does a value proposition sound like? Instead of saying “we want good schools,” the plan might state that every child in Marion County should have access to an A or B school.
When: More than 125 people are currently working on committees to craft the propositions. The entire plan should be drafted by the end of the year and adopted in early 2015.
How much: The planning process itself will cost just shy of $2 million. No one knows what the final amount associated with each set of recommendations will total.
What’s the holdup: Funding for all of the projects, once the planning process is complete. The committees are charged with identifying costs as well as how they can realistically be achieved.
Backstory:  Old City Hall already was renovated as part of Plan 2020. People for Urban Progress retrofitted the Hall, which has become the headquarters for the project’s staff. “That’s the spirit of the entire plan,” says Brad Beaubien, administrator for the Department of Metropolitan Development. “To build on what we already have.”
The goal: Inspiring the city to dream bigger (a lot like this article, actually), with a medium-range deadline.
Transit CenterDowntown Rapid Transit Center
What: A 14,000-square-foot public transportation hub at 201. E. Washington St., housed in glass and under solar panels, including 19 IndyGo bus bays, a retail space, indoor seating, and free public Wi-Fi.
When: IndyGo recently selected the contractors for construction documents, design, and landscape. Workers will break ground in the fall, and the hub will be operational by late 2015.
How much: $20 million.
What’s the holdup: A lengthy federal planning process, public town halls, and the technical heavy lift of getting real-time bus data operational by this fall, so that buses will be trackable on Google Maps and mobile devices.
Backstory: In an online survey, IndyGo asked citizens to sound off on issues such as how to utilize retail space (coffee shop or bikeshare office?) and fare options. The results included calls for a cafe and reloadable fare cards, which officials are seriously considering.
The goal: Fewer jokes about our public transportation system.
Market East Big IdeasMarket East
What: The city’s newly named district (that wasn’t meant to be considered a cultural district, planners say) occupies a trapezoid just east of the Circle—and promises to be the most active chunk of downtown in the next couple of years. The area, largely a swath of parking lots, already claimed historic City Market and Old City Hall. Then came plans for a building frenzy: the Artistry apartments, a 28-floor glass tower of luxury apartments (anchored by Whole Foods) on the former Market Square Arena site, the Downtown Rapid Transit Center, and the Cummins headquarters.
When: Look for Market East signage to start popping up any day now. The first phase of the Artistry is already open; groundbreakings for the rest have already begun or should roll out over the next few months.
How much: The city is paying $20 million for the Transit Center and sweetening the pot for several of the other projects—free land and a $17.8 million subsidy for the Market Square tower, and a big property-tax break (and half the land) to Cummins.
Most innovative aspect of the plan: The dull City-County Building plaza will get a makeover, thanks to a redesign competition held earlier this year by the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Organizers hope to land on something like Chicago’s Millennium Park, cool “Bean”-like art attraction and all.
The goal: By branding the former sea of concrete and bail-bonds places into a cohesive neighborhood, the city hopes to market to new residents and capture the boosted tax base Mayor Ballard so covets. That includes luring the well-to-do from Hamilton County; some planners affectionately refer to Market East as the “Carmel relocation program.”
This article appeared in the August 2014 issue.