Woodruff President’s Message 2018-08

According to SAVI, it was only seven years ago when the Near Eastside was home to the highest rate of foreclosures in the county at 11% which doubled the national average. It was only eight years ago that Marion County home vacancy was 7% but the Near Eastside was more than three times that, coming in at an eyebrow raising 24%. Those numbers provide clear evidence of an upside down housing stock crisis – too many homes, not enough home dwellers. Growing vacancy is a first step in continued neighborhood decline – businesses close, tax revenue goes down, city services suffer, illicit opportunities take advantage and so on.

Since then, things have been changing and the pace is picking up. Neighborhood pillar organizations have tirelessly worked to enhance the community. Individual neighborhoods have taken up the challenge of restoring homes from what were empty buildings or overly-dense multifamily units. Companies have relocated operations here. Businesses have chosen the area to open new ventures. We have witnessed a critical mass of private individuals, not-for-profit, city leadership and corporate investment interest come to the table. All of that investment is now beginning to reap new rewards and people who once overlooked the area are looking here first.

Some are drawn to the allure of an 1890’s Queen Anne and others are being enticed by brand new construction. Businesses are repurposing vacated structures and setting up shop. But those who have been here throughout it all are not being forgotten or overlooked. Near East Area Renewal has renovated or rebuilt over 100 homes to date and each property came from surplus city stock and reportedly, no one was displaced in that process. Caulk of the Town brings neighbors together and helps those who are unable to perform ongoing home maintenance, allowing them to stay in their homes. Change is brewing here on the Near Eastside and it is almost all positive. I hope that we can think of the growth as re-population. Re-population of families, re-establishing of businesses, re-investment of taxes, re-storing a sense of community we can all be proud of.

Traffic, Anyone?

Traffic, Anyone?

Society has become dependent on automobiles, but should we continue to let them drive our thinking? A massive $250 million-$3 billion plan has been proposed for the stretch of the downtown interstate system that is referred to as the north split – or the dog leg, in honor of the overhead view of the interchange – and it leaves me questioning the ‘why’.

We Near Eastsiders are already familiar with traffic barriers. Adding insult to injury, now we are talking about closing down more streets to allow for reconstruction of the 65/70 split. Neighbors fought against this very same form of attempted progress through the 1950’s and 60’s as the state considered the construction of the downtown Indianapolis interstate system, known as the inner-loop. The initial construction project divided historic neighborhoods, swallowed up irreplaceable historic infrastructure and permanently changed the landscape of our city. Here we are now, at the end of the lifespan of that original system, being told that the system needs to be expanded. State Representative Robert V. Birdwell, with the foresight of half a century, stated that INDOT’s proposed plan “…could do a lot of lasting damage to our city. No consideration was given to the overall planning and to the people who will have to live with this thing.” (“Present I-65 Design Blasted by Ind. Solons,” Indianapolis Recorder, 12/25/1965.)

I have to ask – why expand it? Indianapolis is the economic engine of this state, generating 37% of the total GDP. Shouldn’t we, as a city, be allowed a greater voice in this process? Especially as INDOT states that 90% of the traffic through this system is ‘local’ bound. I don’t travel the interstate system very often. I am thankful that it exists but it’s not a necessity for me. For people living in the suburbs of the city I can imagine it’s a massive benefit. But should we really expand the system to accommodate? As I have heard it mentioned recently, Indy only has rush 30 minutes which would literally be a combined rush hour for the whole day. I think any traveler of the system would agree that outside of morning and evening rush hour, the system has adequate bandwidth for the load.

The system does indeed need work though. It suffers from the same freeze/thaw cycles that our surface streets do. The stretch along I70 through downtown is particularly bad, as are the spaghetti lanes that handle the secondary routes through the dogleg. It wasn’t that long ago, 2007 to be exact, when the Super 70 project kicked off, replacing a large section of I70 from the dogleg to 465, at a quoted cost of $175million and it’s already showing its age.

My point is, perhaps there are opportunities to improve our city, THE economic engine of the state, with this massive investment. Perhaps there are opportunities that can help take more cars off the road, reducing the costly maintenance and infrastructure improvement projects that we already fail to keep up with. Should we continue to prioritize our guests over our citizens? Are we enhancing an interstate system to further divide our downtown communities in favor of those who pass through the Circle City? Are we really going to enlarge this system for the one rush hour we experience each week day to save an extra 3-5 minutes?

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.