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City of Indianapolis, partners look to invest in and preserve Indiana Avenue

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Posted at 10:58 PM, Feb 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-23 23:37:00-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Honoring history and looking forward to the future — those are the two goals the City of Indianapolis hopes to accomplish in the area that was once the epicenter of Black Indianapolis.

Indiana Avenue is a historically Black commercial and residential corridor. It runs from 16th Street to Capitol Avenue.

The Urban Legacy Lands Initiative and Reclaim Indiana Avenue are partners in the strategic plan. The first step includes crafting a vision.

"It's better late than never, and I'm proud of Indianapolis for stepping up because this is the place that can be made fabulous. It's our intention to help do it in to make it as easy as possible, as fast as possible and as successful as possible," Claudia Polley, Urban Legacy Lands Initiative (ULLI) president, said.

The Indianapolis-based nonprofit concentrates on preserving and protecting Black cultural heritage.

PREVIOUS: Urban Legacy Lands Initiative calls for revitalization of Historic Indiana Avenue

Lifelong resident Demarcus Carter says he’s happy to see the City focus its energy on this historically underserved district.

“I remember when downtown wasn’t downtown. We didn’t have Circle Centre Mall. It’s something good to see," Carter said.

Just next to the avenue one of downtown Indy's longest standing businesses, Musicians’ Repair & Sales.

“Dad started this store in 1948, so this is our 75th year in business,” second generation owner Rick Oldham said.

Back in the 40s, 50s and 60s, the Avenue and jazz music went hand-in-hand.

“The clubs on Indiana Avenue were completely different. They were clubs where musicians could go and play and the Black public could come and go to those clubs. In fact, most of them were Black only," Oldham said. "That’s where they got a chance to play, a chance to perform."

RELATED: The life and legacy of Indy Jazz great Wes Montgomery explored in new documentary

Polley says while music played a big part in the Avenue's vibrancy, it was so much more.

“We wanna bring it back to its best of times, where people came to recreate, to worship, to live, to interact with their friends. That’s what Indiana Avenue should be again," Polley said.

The City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) is releasing a Request for Expressions of Interests (RFEI) as it seeks proposals from interested design and planning firms.

“The RFEI serves as that first piece to get the interest of design development, urban design firms who are interested in doing this work. We’ve called specifically that the end goal of that work is this unification of a direction and a vision of how to perceive Indiana Avenue," Lourenzo Giple with the DMD said.

This comes at a time when Indianapolis is more diverse than ever.

Recent census data found more than 45 percent of Indy’s population is a racial or ethnic minority.

“Why not now? If we don’t do it now, when are we gonna do it? We have the opportunity now," Giple said. “There is a drive to get this done, so we’re gonna keep pushing with that moment right now.”

Responses for the Indiana Avenue Certified Strategic Plan are due to DMD on April 27.

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Indiana Avenue RFEI Areas

If you're interested in learning more about Indiana Avenue, Sampson Levingston frequently hosts Walk and Talk Tours on the Avenue and other areas in Indianapolis.

RELATED: 'Look for the history right under your feet': young Hoosier leads Black history tours

READ MORE: Madam C.J. Walker's legacy continues on Indiana Avenue | Madam C.J. Walker Mural dedicated in downtown Indy | Local scholar profiles Black historical figures in the Circle City