Improving the 38th Street corridor

 

At a Maple Road Visioning meeting tonight at North United Methodist Church, the city plans to present preliminary draft guidelines for development along the nearly four-mile 38th Street corridor from Fall Creek Parkway on the east to Michigan Road on the west.

"We needed to go back to the community and see what they wanted," says Michael McKillip, board president of the Maple Road Development Association. "And what they wanted was economic development."

The MRDA, the Department of Metropolitan Development and Historic Midtown Neighborhoods Initiative (HARMONI) are hosting the Maple Road Visioning meeting, the fifth such gathering since mid-October, in hopes of getting more people engaged in the process of developing the area, according to Kathy Shorter of HARMONI.

"This is a great renewal effort," Shorter says. Economic development in the area "could create some new energy for all of Marion County. And it just makes sense given all the investment in the infrastructure along 38th Street."

Maple Road, as 38th Street was known for more than 100 years until some time after the Second World War, was once a bustling commercial area and a center of commerce along the Northside of Indianapolis. The street, which was named for the numerous maple trees along its route, contained many shops and small businesses, and was a center of activity for the homes immediately to its north and south.

The area started to decline in the late 1950s and early 1960s as businesses closed, leaving many abandoned buildings, and the overall residential population decreased. Yet some 30,000 vehicles a day use at least a portion of 38th Street between the Indiana State Fairgrounds at Fall Creek and the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Michigan Road, making it one of the busiest roadways in the city.

To accommodate the increased traffic volume, roughly $20 million was spent over the past five years repaving 38th Street and its sidewalks and adding a median strip, which contains plants that the MRDA still maintains. But the city also improved the street lights, reduced some areas where motorists could turn left, reduced the speed limit, particularly on the western end, and added some traffic lights, most notably at Clarendon Road.

But what has traditionally worried residents and business owners on both the north and south of 38th Street is that the road is seen more often than not as a conduit to somewhere else instead of as a destination.

The economic downturn has also hurt. Last year, Starbucks closed two stores in the area -- at Meridian and 38th and at Fall Creek and College Avenue.

"We have seen new businesses coming into the corridor but [Starbucks' closing] was a major hit," McKillip says. "But that is to be expected in these economic times."

Shorter said there are more than a handful of neighborhoods immediately adjacent to 38th Street and their neighborhood associations have become active in helping to envision what the area can become, and the group is looking for zoning changes and other incentives to attract more businesses to grow the tax base, more residents to live in the area and more people to just come and shop.

"Imagine being able to park along 38th Street, to sit at a restaurant or go to a park. It's about quality of life," Shorter says.

"This is a midtown effort," McKillip says. "So we can't do it without taking into consideration what other people are doing."

The decline of 38th Street took years and revitalization will also take time. "This isn't going to happen overnight. It is a 15- to 20-year effort," McKillip says.

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