Monon 30 Breathes Life Into Urban Blight

The Cradle at Monon 30 aerial view
The Cradle at Monon 30

TRAVELING the Monon Trail, pedestrians can explore art galleries and lounge in the Japanese gardens of Carmel, or peruse vintage and antiques stores and grab a bite to eat in the restaurants of Broad Ripple. However, as the trail nears downtown, travelers are met with dilapidated industrial plants and blighted lumberyards.

That is, until they come across The Cradle at Monon 30 (@monon30_indy). Like an oasis amid a desert, The Cradle’s lush greenery, brightly colored furniture, and cheery hanging lights contrast jarringly with its bleak surroundings. Yet, a closer look reveals The Cradle pays homage to its industrial roots. The greenery is planted in shipping crates and the brightly colored furniture is built out of painted pallets. The band on the stage plays below an old Monon Railroad train light, and food vendors operate out of repurposed shipping containers.

The community event space opened earlier this summer, offering live music and food Friday and Saturday nights. Local development company Monon 30 renovated the abandoned lumberyard with their unique style, which Monon 30 Vice President of Communications Annie Whistler refers to as “inviting industrial.”

Monon 30 Vice President of Events Molly Kruger says the group wanted to preserve the location’s history by keeping the shipping containers, but making the space feel lively required creative thinking.

“Containers sometimes can be a bit sterile, not overly warm and welcoming,” Kruger says. “The idea is to soften them up with plants and really give the space a tropical, warm, loving community feel.”

The venue opens to the public free of charge. Food and drink are available for purchase, and yard games are offered. Kruger says approximately 700 people attended last Saturday, but this is merely the start of a much larger project.

“This is just the beginning of a 50-acre development,” Kruger says. “We wanted to get things started for the summertime, to see what the turnout would be and to prove to the city that we could really make something of this area and revitalize it.”

The Domino at Monon 30
The Domino as seen from the southeast

Monon 30 is part of Monon Development Group, a coalition of 10 developers with ambitious plans to transform 50 acres of blighted Indianapolis property into apartments, retail space, restaurants, recreational areas, and event venues. The Cradle marks the first part of the development to open, but remains a work in progress. It will eventually include indoor event space and sports facilities. This fall, Monon Development Group will break ground on The Domino, an apartment complex named for its role as the first domino to fall in the long line of major projects. The massive undertaking, though daunting, is long overdue, Kruger says.

“How many times have I ridden my bike down the Monon over the past 10 years just to realize there is nothing here?” Kruger says. “Basically from the fairgrounds to Indianapolis, it’s very industrial, very cold, there’s not a lot happening. We saw an opportunity to truly revitalize the neighborhood and breathe some life into things.”

The development follows the lead of other areas that have centered public trails in their urban planning. Whistler views proximity to the Monon Trail as a resource to Monon 30’s development plan.

“You see what Carmel does, what Broad Ripple does along the Monon. You see what downtown does along the Cultural Trail. Why not here?” Whistler says. “There’s just been a gap for no good reason other than no one’s taken it on. That trail access is such an amenity.”

Black Lemon vendor at The Cradle at Monon 30
Black Lemon Creative Director Jeffery Burgin

The 50 acres not only includes former industrial plants, but also properties deemed “environmental liabilities.” Whistler says she loves The Cradle’s reimagining of pallets and shipping containers because it embodies Monon 30’s ability to create sustainable community spaces.

“My personal favorite part is that we are taking properties that are environmental liabilities and we’re making them assets. You can feel good about it.”

Developers can also feel good about the fact that no residents are expected to be displaced by any of the projects. Additionally, the new apartments will include both market-rate and affordable housing. Both Kruger and Whistler make a point to differentiate between revitalization and gentrification. They say Monon 30 strives to listen to feedback from surrounding neighborhoods and include the existing community in their plans. Kruger says the local response has been largely positive.

“There’s no way we could do this alone, nor would we want to do it alone,” Kruger says. “Even passersby will stop and ask us what’s going on. Whether they’ve been here 50 years or whether they just moved in two weeks ago, I feel like the response is the same—they’re so excited we’re revitalizing the neighborhood. We just want to make sure it’s an affordable option for all.”

Chris White, a Monon 30 principal partner, holds Zoom meetings with residents of the project’s surrounding neighborhoods each Friday. He understands community support is crucial to the project’s success, Whistler says.

“He’s not a wrecking ball, he doesn’t just come in and abruptly change things,” Whistler says. “He’s been very delicate in how he’s handled those relationships and really takes into account what people want, what they think, and their livelihoods.”