Cleaning up the Broad Ripple mess 

Who in the city will take responsibility?

When I first started visiting Broad Ripple as a high school student, 25 years ago, it seemed like a mysterious and wonderful place. The best record store in town, Second Time Around, sat on the corner, defiantly proclaiming its allegiance to punk rock.

I took guitar lessons from Scott Ballantine at his music store. I wandered the streets happily, knowing that it was a special area unlike any other in town.

When I got a job at NUVO in 1993, Broad Ripple still had its charm and character. My favorite restaurant in town, India Garden, was but a few steps away. The mom-and-pop stores were full of wonderful merchandise. Even though we were afraid that the water in the canal would catch fire and burn down our office, it was still a great place to work and live.

Sometime in the mid- to late-1990s, though, things began to change in Broad Ripple. The family-owned businesses began to close, replaced by nightclub after nightclub. NUVO employees literally had to hurdle puddles of vomit and farms of broken beer bottles just to make it inside the office.

I recall going through several sets of tires per year when I worked in Broad Ripple. The broken glass was just too much for the Wal-Mart radials I always bought. I considered it an occupational hazard, just another price to pay.

The Patio was still the best rock and roll bar in Indiana, the Alley Cat still served Kentucky Tavern bourbon and the Vogue still brought some of the best national acts to its stage, so it wasn’t that big a deal.

In 2002, NUVO left Broad Ripple, and the area stopped being part of my daily existence. Indy CD and Vinyl restored the tradition of the great music store in the Village. The Patio and the Cat were still there, although Paco’s closed, as did the barbershop I frequented.

Just five years later, it appears that Broad Ripple has gone all to hell. My wife works in the Village and reports all the crazy goings-on she sees. When I turn on my police scanner, it seems like a small civil war is being fought every night around the bars.

How did Broad Ripple transform from an eccentric hangout for bohemians and skate punks to a mecca for drunken college kids in just a short time?

WISH-TV conducted an investigation of the Broad Ripple crime problem last week and found that there are no easy answers. The area is heavily policed and there’s an active neighborhood association. Everyone seems to agree something needs to be done, but what?

Better lighting in the areas adjacent to Broad Ripple Avenue would help. Once you step off the main street, you’re going to be walking in darkness unless you set something on fire. Because there’s very little parking available in Broad Ripple, most people have to walk a few blocks in the pitch dark to get to their cars.

But that’s just one minor fix to a much bigger problem. The real problem in Broad Ripple is that you have too many drunk people coming out of too many bars at the same time. Even a battalion of policemen couldn’t keep pace with all the drunks.

Why are there so many more drinking establishments in Broad Ripple? Because city planners and politicians made a conscious decision in the 1990s to allow them to open. That’s why the mom-and-pop stores closed down and it’s why there won’t be a drop in crime anytime soon.

The mayor, the City-County Council and the Alcoholic Beverages Commission all bear equal responsibility for this mess. Someone needs to stand up and ask why this situation was allowed to build up in the first place, and to investigate just who’s benefited the most from the status quo.

Over the past few years, businesses catering to an African-American clientele, or ones that even played hip-hop music, were singled out for blame. Some were even driven out of business. That blame game isn’t going to work this time.

You could ban every single rap song from Grandmaster Flash onward from Broad Ripple and it wouldn’t change the crime stats one bit.

Broad Ripple was once the most wonderful and unique part of Indianapolis, an area that all could treasure. Now that it’s turned into a mini-Rush Street, but without Rush Street’s good lighting, nearby parking and safe atmosphere, someone among our city’s leaders needs to stand up and take responsibility for this mess.

Don’t hold your breath on it happening, though, or for things in Broad Ripple changing anytime soon.

That’s just how this city works, and it’s not going to stop because a few women get raped or a few people get mugged. 

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