Indianapolis Revitalizing Neighborhoods Through Arts & Culture

By Gary Reiter

Gary Reiter serves on local nonprofit boards (including Riley Area Development Corporation) in the Indianapolis area with a focus on equity in community development, transit and the arts. Gary is a Banker with BMO Harris Bank.

Aug 9, 2017 | Resources, Society | 0 comments

As historian Mark I. Gelfand has noted: "No federal venture spent more funds in urban areas and returned fewer dividends to central cities than the national highway program." A micro example of the devastating effect of the highway system developed through the core of Indianapolis is Cruft Street, with a dead end abutting I-65 near the I-65/I-70 split (completed in 1976) in the Garfield Park area of Indianapolis. Forty-two percent of houses in the area have incomes below $25,000, and 13.5 percent live on less than $10,000 a year. The low income demographic of the area results in 22 percent of adults over age 25 having no high school diploma and 81 percent with no college degree.

An examination of the Cruft Street neighborhood has spurred many nonprofit organizations in Indianapolis to question how the public sector can support the role of arts and culture in revitalizing the Cruft Street neighborhood. The Reinvestment Fund (a national leader in the financing of neighborhood revitalization) believes that the first steps can be taken simply by having the public sector do its job better. Providing security, clean and safe streets, usable public spaces, and consistent and honest enforcement of zoning and development regulations would make revitalization much easier. Strategic grants for place-making activities, such as distinctive streetscapes, park facilities, or local festivals would also provide huge returns.

Opportunities On Cruft Street

The Redline Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) Line in Indianapolis Indiana will launch in late 2018. This $95 million transit line is the first mass transit line in the Central Indiana, Indianapolis-Carmel MSA (population 1,988,817); funding for the Red Line was approved via voter referendum in late 2016. The BRT service is proposed to run for 20 hours per day, seven days per week, and 365 days per year. For 14 hours per day buses will come every 10 minutes, and every 20 minutes for the other 6 hours (very early morning and late evening). The Cruft Street neighborhood will have a new Redline bus stop, which will provide residents with new and improved access to fresh food, jobs, healthcare, education, and cultural opportunities through the BRT transportation option.

The adjacent Garfield Park is a 128-acre regional Indianapolis City Park established created in 1881 located 3.5 miles from the center of downtown Indianapolis, and acts as a huge asset to the Cruft Street neighborhood.  98 acres of the site was originally a harness racetrack that eventually failed causing the land to be sold to the City of Indianapolis in 1874.  Garfield Park includes a Conservatory and Sunken Gardens established in 1915, an Asian Pagoda picnic shelter built in 1903, an Arts Center constructed in 1922, an outdoor Performing Arts Amphitheatre built in the mid 1920’s, and an Aquatic Center constructed in 1998. The acreage also includes tennis courts, ball fields and horseshoe pits. Indy Parks and the City of Indianapolis will invest heavily in Garfield Park starting with the introduction of a business plan in 2016. The continued investment by the City of Indianapolis in Garfield Park will support the revitalization of the adjoining Cruft Street neighborhood.

Adding to the suite of opportunity around revitalizing Cruft Street, the City of Indianapolis has committed to adding on-street parking and streetscape features to the nearby Tube Factory, a former factory (previously owned by George Seybert who was a founder of the Friends of Garfield Park in 1998) now operating as a community center and nonprofit base of operations.

These opportunities have spurred a discussion of the impacts that resulted from a change in the community philosophy around philanthropic and cultural investment in the Cruft Street neighborhood.  Historically, philanthropy has supported organizations that focus on the presentation or consumption of artistic work, by supporting mainstream institutions such as theaters, symphony, museums, galleries, etc. On Cruft Street, we’ve seen a focused and strategic shift to providing support for individual artists and the creation of Art, which leads to the creation of space for artists to live, work, commune with others, and create.

As an example, in the late 1990’s, the Heinz Foundation in Pittsburgh created a strategic plan for its grant-making that shifted away from the previous single-minded support for cultural institutions that present artistic work.  The Heinz Foundation committed to an expanded creative approach designed to make Pittsburg more hospitable to individual artists.  The new approach to support individual artists wound up meaning support of affordable housing for the Arts and Cultural community in the Pittsburgh area Cultural Districts.

In fact, according to a study of cultural districts in Philadelphia conducted by The Reinvestment Fund, block groups with a high number of cultural assets are nearly four times more likely to see their population increase and their poverty rates decline as sections with fewer cultural assets. Indianapolis is no stranger to gentrification in its Cultural Districts. Mass Avenue and Fountain Square are two culturally rich areas of Indianapolis that have been heavily gentrified in the past two decades, which home prices jumping from the low $90,000’s in 1997 to over $1,500,000 in recent years.

The Solution: An Affordable Housing Development Partnership

Dan Bennett, an American comedian, once said that “One of the healthiest ways to gamble is with a spade and a package of garden seeds.”   

Riley Area Development Corporation is a community development corporation that has successful past projects and investments in affordable housing and economic development. In the past, Riley Area’s main focus was to build affordable housing apartments using Low Income Housing Tax Credits with retail and commercial components as part of each single project. While the projects have been completed, the impacts have been limited to the immediate users or residents of that project.

In collaboration with nonprofit, Big Car Collaborative, Riley Area has taken Dan Bennett’s spade-and-garden-seed approach by creating an artist-led grassroots affordable housing development that creates a series of artist residences on Cruft Street located in the Garfield Park area of Indianapolis. Riley Area is part of the Building Alliances for Local Living Economies (BALLE) which provides a platform for engaging in discussion with other communities in the US and Canada around equitable economy practices.

The Results of the Cruft Street Artist Residences

Eleven homes on Cruft Street have been purchased on a dead end street of 35 homes between Shelby Street and Interstate 65. Ursula David’s Indy Mod Homes teamed with Axis Architecture + Interiors on one of the two homes ready for occupancy, and Gibson Construction renovated the other.

The vacant homes were mostly purchased from private owners for between $20,000 and $25,000 and will be valued in the $80,000 to $100,000 range when finished. Many of the partners in the program are providing their renovating services at no cost. The arrangement is governed by a Tenant In Common Agreement for the artist shared equity sale. The agreement is to sell 49% of the renovated home value to the Artist.

The Artist owner will have the ability to sell back their 49% interest in the property at a pre-determined growth rate to the nonprofit organization majority owner. Thus, the property interest can be sold by the nonprofit to another Artist at an affordable price to ensure a protection against gentrification and to maintain the presence of an Artist community through the continued availability of affordable artist residences.

Ancillary Benefits

Entrepreneurship opportunities have arisen recently through development of a food makerspace. The Food Beauty Center is a startup food space for food products and food service ideas. This 2,000 SF Community Kitchen is located on the Red Line, 200 feet from the stop. The location allows these food startup firms access to other markets along the Red Line.  With projected ridership of 100,000 per year the location on the Red Line stop will provide access to customers for this community test and start up kitchen. As part of the RUCKUS makerspace (Ruckus is an entrepreneurial makerspace also created in collaboration with Riley Area Development Corporation) this space will focus on the engagement of women and underrepresented communities.  Further, other entrepreneurship opportunities have evolved in the area due to the revitalization and additional affordable housing rental units and mixed use equitable transit oriented development projects are planned on acquired land that is being preserved for affordability.

Desired Results on Cruft Street

Economists have developed a concept for the dilemma faced in Cruft Street neighborhood arising out of revitalization and labeled the dilemma “externalities” or burden. Essentially, the artists and workers in the artist community, nonprofits, and commercial cultural firms located in the Cruft Street neighborhood area will stimulate a poverty rate decline and a population increase, but the artists, nonprofits and commercial cultural firms that have stimulated the revitalization only experience an indirect benefit. On the other hand, a developer or current residential or commercial property owner who profits from the revitalized neighborhood may never even realize that the local resident’s effort to create a community culture and arts scene was the catalyst for revitalization.

Therefore, the Cruft Street Artist Residences is designed to create a permanent affordable housing solution for the Artists in order to preserve the cultural assets and provide a direct benefit of affordability from the revitalization recognizing that the community culture and arts scene is the catalyst for revitalization of the area and to protect against gentrification.

The best result will be to demonstrate how communities and neighborhoods can create shared equity artist housing opportunities to support the role of arts and culture in revitalizing a community. The Cruft Street Artist Residences will protect the cultural assets and affordability to maintain the neighborhood as a place making opportunity for a vital and diverse neighborhood.

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