June in Woodruff

No, not the poem! But that’s good too!

 

It’s finally warm outside and the trees are beginning to fill in. From my seat on the porch, I can see the trees awash in an array of colors and new buds. In a few weeks time, those trees will all be fully bloomed and I won’t be able to see much beyond the neighbors house. By the time you read this, the annual Flea Market will have wrapped up and the thousands of attendees will have gone home. It will finally be time to sit down in this very same spot again to relax.

Our family loves this tranquil neighborhood full of lush trees and the sound of water running in the fountains. When sitting here the sound of the city disappears – the ambient temperature is a good 20 degrees cooler. Squirrels, birds, bats and some neighborhood cats go about their business as if they’ve been here longer than the people. It’s no wonder that this time of year, in this place, inspiration has been found by many artists paying tribute to beauty of the neighborhood. Enjoy June, neighbors!

Flea Market History

To the average Woodruffian, the annual Flea Market is a weekend in June to celebrate the neighborhood. Like many new neighbors, my first encounter came as a complete shock: There are thousands of people! No, seriously. Thousands. Even if the weather isn’t accommodating, central Indiana shows up for this magical weekend in June. Over the years my household has developed a year-long preparation plan:

  1. Put stuff in the garage and basement marked ‘flea mkt’ all year long.
  2. Forget about all of the stuff to sell until the week before.
  3. Panic ensues.
  4. Scramble on Flea Market Eve getting stuff ready to sell.
  5. Saturday morning comes and you give up, have a drink with friends and people watch.

When talking with long-term residents about their process, I get the sense that we all experience this at one point or another.

No one really knows when the Flea Market started. I’ve put a date on the official website of 1975, but even that date may not be accurate. I have it on record from one of the original planners that instead, 1976 was the most likely inaugural event. You see, back then the neighborhood was a completely different place. The Flea Market was THE primary fundraiser for a neighborhood completely dedicated to the bootstraps type quality of life improvement and neighborhood preservation. Their goal was to coordinate a neighborhood activity with the country’s bicentennial festivities and use it to fundraise. That first year, residents donated 100% of the proceeds from their individual sales to the neighborhood – netting around $1,000.

As new neighbors came into the fold, they too were just as skeptical about this tall tale of ‘thousands’ of people shopping at the flea market. In the mid-80’s, Tom Abeel, a first time participant, doubted Kimbal and Tessie Lloyd-Jones’s attendance estimates – until they witnessed the 1987 event, “we half-heartedly put a few things in the yard, and holy smokes: Everything sold on Saturday!”

Rosanna Hardin-Hall grew up in Woodruff in the 1940s and 50s, and returned as a full-time resident in 1995. She says her first few flea market years were dedicated to selling off the previous two generations of her family’s belongings from 700 Middle Drive to clear a spot to make a home for herself. Over 20 years into her second-term of residency, she looks forward to sharing her artistic talents by performing charcoal drawings for passers-by.

Now in its 40-something the year of operation, several neighbors prefer to donate their yard to the Flea Market committee, who places an approved vendor in the space for a fee. Some Woodruffians are convinced that this is the best way to enjoy the event – letting someone else do the work while getting to enjoy the best food, drinks and friends on porches throughout the weekend. While you’re finishing off some buffalo nachos, ice cream, elephant ear, draft beer and meat on a stick, be sure to take a minute to appreciate the hard work of the small army of volunteers operating in the background to pull this event off.

Long-term Planning

A few years ago, several volunteers began the process of creating a 10 year strategic plan for Woodruff Place. This first-of-its kind plan for the new millenia set the course for infrastructure investments that eventually became some of the guiding ideas for our Economic Improvement District (EID). Leaders identified investment budgets for our five primary historic infrastructure assets: Town Hall, 10th Street Fence, Statues & Urns, Fountains and Streetlights. The estimated total for this work was set at $832,900 by 2023.

Looking back at the goals established in that plan and marking each major achievement along the way is mirroring the larger revitalization process throughout the Near Eastside. Woodruff Place is but a single neighborhood of the 18 or so neighborhoods that make up what is known as the Near Eastside. The borders stretch from the interstate 65/70 interchange on the west, the railroad tracks on the south side of Washington Street, Emerson to the east and interstate 70 to the north. That’s a large area with a population of about 30,000 residents. In the time since the early strategic plan, the Near Eastside Quality of Life plan, which lead to the Indianapolis Super Bowl Legacy Project, Near Eastsiders have been witness to a dramatic improvement in many areas in a relatively short amount of time. However, just like our own aged infrastructure and investments in Woodruff Place, there is still a lot more work to do in the greater neighborhood.

Just now we are starting to see investment from outside the community. Where I used to have my car serviced is turning into one of the most anticipated restaurants in the city. What used to be a massive eye sore (CCIC building), on the verge of falling down, is now Centerpoint Brewery and a maker space and lots of independently owned shops. There’s a protected bike lane on Michigan and on New York. The Mayfair building (next to Burger King on 10th Street) doesn’t have holes in the walls and is on its way to being a new brew pub. Near East Area Renewal recently completed their 100th home renovation in St. Clair Place. One of our IPS schools, Thomas Gregg Elementary, once on the verge of takeover candidacy, is now an innovation school. It’s still part of the IPS system but run independently by Near Eastside community leaders. The federal IndyEast Promise Zone has delivered on its designation, securing over $120m in grant awards for the area in a little over two years.

Every resident who has lived here for the past 5-10 years can see the fruit of this labor and it has created a great deal of excitement around the future. But it’s not a distant future anymore. That future vision identified in plans is right there, on the horizon – but the work isn’t finished. There is room at the table for so many volunteers and so many more projects. There is opportunity for private/public partnership, as we’re seeing with some of the multifamily residential projects going on all around us. There may be an opportunity with the former IREF site in the coming years. The work is not done on the Near Eastside and the work is not done in Woodruff Place. It’s a great time to be here and I can’t imagine myself, or my family, anywhere else.

Organizing

In January, Bill Brooks and the Urban Times staff brought together each of the historic neighborhoods in the papers’ circulation. Each neighborhood was given the opportunity to talk about their community: what’s working, how they gather neighbor feedback, what challenges are being faced. I was proud to stand up and say that Woodruff Place has over 175 active members in our Civic League, up from 67 in November. Which leads me to what I ranked as my number one thing that we do really, really well: We organize. Cleanups, events, fundraising campaigns, meal trains, committees, boards and of course the implementation of the Economic Improvement District. Our neighborhood volunteer ranks are incredibly complex but we’re all working towards the goal of preserving Woodruff Place for the next generation of Woodruffians. At our last general membership meeting, Doreen Tatnall shared a brief history of density reduction efforts over the past 35 years in which the neighborhood and individual neighbors have collectively reduced the housing stock in Woodruff Place by over 140 units. This is not because we are opposed to apartments, but we are in favor of preservation and returning these properties to their original intended use. Our neighborhood is listed on the historical register due to the gathering of unique architectural styles, and we could not be more proud than to act as stewards to this amazing place we call home.

The next general membership meeting: March 12, 2018 – Town Hall, 7:00 PM

Special Committee

First, I want to take a moment to thank all of those who came out to the meeting last week. It was very beneficial to hear thoughts from our neighbors surrounding the proposed sober living house at 608 Middle Drive. Many of you offered up great thoughts, ideas, and things the board had not even considered, just as we hoped you would. As a result of that conversation, the Civic League board met on Wednesday, December 20, and created the Woodruff Place Civic League Land Use Special Committee (WPCLLUSC). The volunteers for this committee are Bill Longest (chair) from the Foundation board, Terri Carney from the Civic League board, Vanessa Javé-Lowry (adjacent homeowner), Rachel Pendleton, Kurt Tornquist, Paul Russell, and Monica Thompson-Deal (in an advisor role). Their first committee meeting will be 12/27/17.

In looking at whom to appoint to the committee, we looked at those who volunteered to serve and tried to select individuals who appeared to sit on all sides of the issue and who could offer additional understanding to benefit the committee. They have all agreed to tackle this task, and I ask that we all give them the support they need to create a recommendation to the board and the Civic League members. You can all be assured that if there is an actionable item, you will get a chance to vote on the direction that is taken.

On that note, I want to take a moment to apologize. It was NEVER the board’s intent to keep anything from the neighborhood or take sides. The intent was to gather the information we could from the new owner/operator, share that with the neighborhood, get the neighbors’ views, and determine next steps. We had a fact-finding meeting with the operator within a week of finding out what was proposed for 608, sent a letter containing that information to the neighbors within two days, and scheduled the information meeting for as soon as we thought feasible. We are working as quickly and effectively as we know how. In hindsight, I wish we would have had the owner/operator compose a letter to the neighborhood explaining their intent, instead of summarizing the conversation we had with them. That might have cleared up some of the feeling that the board had taken a side and was not just sharing information.
The start of a new year represents a fresh start. Even though we have a mountain of additional answers to seek, I ask that we do it together. We may currently have the highest number of members in the history of the organization. Let’s put it to good use.

Happy New Year to each one of you and your families.