Two commercial developments in Fountain Square promise to write a new chapter for this neighborhood located just southeast of Downtown. The Murphy Building, located in the heart of Fountain Square at 1043 Virginia Ave., is now under new ownership and will continue to offer space to artists in its upper levels, while a new arts building is being proposed for the Fletcher Place neighborhood at 719 Virginia Ave.

These two projects, approximately half a mile away from one another, both involve Craig Von Deylen of Perkins Von Deylen Architects.

The proposed Fletcher Place Arts Building is designed by Perkins Von Deylen, of which Craig Von Deylen is a principal. Von Deylen said that he is negotiating with a prospective retail tenant and that, if this tenant is secured, then "it's a go" for construction beginning in early 2010. The building would contain, in addition to space for Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA) on the 2nd floor, 56 apartments, a parking garage, and 8,700 square feet of commercial real estate on the ground floor.

"We're trying to design a progressively well-designed building that has character and is appropriately designed to house contemporary art," said Von Deylen. At the same time, the market-rate apartments would provide much needed housing to the area, according to the president of the Fountain Square Merchants' Association, Linton Calvert.

According to iMOCA's Executive Director, Jeremy Efroymson, the proposed building would allow iMOCA - currently located at 340 N. Senate Avenue - to fulfill its original mission. "It gives us enough space for contemporary art," he said. "It will really bump us up to the next level. It will be our permanent home."

While the museum would be located in Fletcher Place - a separate neighborhood, according to the residents who live there - Efroymson considers it "the gateway to Fountain Square."

In any event, the two neighborhoods will soon be linked by the Cultural Trail, on which construction will begin in the first quarter of 2010. The trail is one component Craig Von Deylen cites when he talks about "an emerging arts district" in Fountain Square. The Murphy Art Center is another - and perhaps the most crucial - component.

Von Deylen and his partner Larry Jones, president of Teagen Development Inc., took over management of the Murphy on Sept. 1, under the auspices of their newly formed company, Murphy Art Center LLC. Once they secure financing, they will complete a purchase agreement with the previous owners.

Under the new ownership, artists will continue to rent studio space on the upper floors of the Murphy Art Center, while the ground level will house mixed-use retail. Representatives of a nightclub and a restaurant have both signed letters of intent to move into the ground floor commercial space. iMOCA will also temporarily relocate to the Murphy come December, joining Indy Swank, the building's newest tenant, which had a grand opening on Sept 19.

While the Murphy Building - which under the ownership of the G.C. Murphy Co. operated as a five-and-dime store until 1998 - requires no major structural work, the new management has pledged to clean up the building, make outdoor dining possible along the Woodlawn side, and to repave the parking lot. But the most important thing, according to Larry Jones, "is getting artists' spaces occupied. We've been successful in that and now we've got a waiting list."

"For us it's good to know what's going on so we can plan ahead," said Jim Walker of the Big Car Gallery, located in the Murphy. Now that the Murphy has a future, Walker said he envisions it becoming like the Harrison Center for the Arts. "The Harrison Center has done a good job... getting artists together to make it succeed," he said.

Such forward thinking is, in part, facilitated by the relatively low rents in comparison to other parts of the city - such as the Massachusetts Ave. corridor. Artists' studios will run from $500-$700 per month in the Murphy and that 1st floor retail space will rent at $12 per square foot annually, according to Larry Jones. "These are the kind of rates that businesses find affordable so we can draw people there," he said.

"We believe there's a demand by artists and businesses to be in close proximity because they feed off each other," said Jones. "All artists want their work looked at and hopefully bought."

The goal, said Von Deylen, is to make it so people no longer just come to Fountain Square for an event. "We want people coming to Fountain Square regardless."

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Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.

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