Curt Churchman is a businessman. He has owned and operated Fine Estate Art and Rugs in the Broad Ripple area since 2002. In mid-2014, he created another art venture business called Gallery Two. In several business and community circles he’s considered an upstanding business neighbor and all-around good guy.
So when the opportunity to expand his two businesses in one location close to his Meridian-Kessler home came along, he took it. Unfortunately, that set off a firestorm of activity that has left Churchman more than disgruntled and with a business in purgatory.
Right now, Churchman holds the lease with intent to buy for the building and property at 4186 Broadway St. The building once housed the College Avenue branch of the Indianapolis/Marion County Public Library from 1958 to 2000 until a new library was built across the street. The library board was able to lease the property to the Kaleidoscope Youth Center (KYC), a non-profit organization that provided afterschool and summer programs for children and youth in the neighborhood.
Eventually KYC purchased the property from the library board along with a parcel of land to the south that was turned into a small playground. However, KYC was forced to close its doors in early 2014 due to changes in United Way funding and other perils suffered by many non-profit organizations in the aftermath of a devastating national recession. The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center absorbed Kaleidoscope’s programming and many other tangible assets leaving the Broadway Street property vacant.
According to the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association (MKNA) website, members of the KYC board informed the association in October 2014 that there was interest in the land for commercial use. “I had a conversation with someone who was on the Kaleidoscope board who mentioned they planned to sell the building,” said Churchman. “After I thought about it, I told him I was interested. The building is perfect for me to consolidate my business into one location and it’s really close to where I live. I could walk to work from home.”
Churchman worked to acquire the property and made plans to relocate Fine Estate Arts & Rugs and Gallery Two in early January 2015. He knew there were a few things that needed to be done before his plans were final, but Churchman thought they would be systematic at best. Since the property is still zoned for library use, Churchman determined he needed approval for a variance to legally operate a commercial retail business. He went before the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association to present his plans for the old library property more out of courtesy and as a long-standing residential member of the association. He didn’t expect MKNA to give him the thumbs down and actively petition against his business relocation plans.
In a statement posted to the MKNA website following their decision Jan. 7, the neighborhood association explained their desire to see the property used as a “neighborhood-service facility” for educational or social service needs.
"From our perspective, it did not appear the building was ever ‘listed for sale’ or marketed well enough to seek interested buyers who could fit a service-oriented use and allow the legacy and mission of KYC to be carried on in a different capacity,” the statement reads. “Ultimately, we feel this building and adjacent play area together is a community asset and it would be a loss for our neighborhood to allow the property to become a commercial use. While there is ample commercial space in the neighborhood, there is very little space reserved for these special uses. As stewards of the community, we must look at the bigger picture and do what we feel is the best long-term decision.”
Erin Kelley sits on the Land Use committee for the association and represents the region where the old KYC building is located. She says neighbors expressed concerns about creating a “slippery slope” if this variance was granted.
“What happens when Fine Estates closes?” said Kelley. “Since another "fine art and rug" gallery will likely not be the buyer, an entirely new variance issue will arise. And, if MKNA supports Fine Art's variance, it will make it harder to deny other commercial/retail variances that seek to move retail/commercial businesses into residential nodes.”
If given the opportunity, Kelley says MKNA believes they would be able to find the type of tenant the organization would like to see in the space.
“MKNA's opposition to Fine Estate's variance is not an opposition to Mr. Churchman's business. It's a great business!” said Kelley. “It is a support statement for the kinds of nonprofit/educational institutions that would serve to improve our community in meaningful and lasting ways.”