Every once in a while, we all run into someone who has been successful at something, generated some positive PR, and let it go to his head. (I say “his” advisedly–although I’ve encountered a few women like this, it generally has been a dude.)
It’s a bad idea to believe your own media hype. It can foster a misplaced sense of entitlement.
It isn’t only individuals who fall into the trap of thinking that–since they have earned praise for doing X–they are entitled to do Y and Z (and sometimes A,B and C…) Organizations can be equally self-important. My last column for the Indiana Business Journal considered an Indianapolis example: the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.
For those of you who live elsewhere, I should explain that the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has long been one of our city’s points of pride. It’s the largest children’s museum in the country, and it has been a lure for tourists and a source of bragging rights for locals. But as my grandmother might have put it, over the years it has gotten “too big for its britches.”
The museum is located in a low-income neighborhood on the near north side of the city. These days, admission fees range from $12 to $35—far more than most of the low-income families and children in its neighborhood can manage, and there are few free days.
The museum’s structure fronts on Illinois Street, a one-way north thoroughfare, and backs onto Meridian Street, a parallel and immensely significant north-south corridor. A drive past the museum on Illinois takes you past its massive parking garage and a seemingly endless string of parking lots on real estate it has purchased and cleared over the years. (Among the structures demolished in the neighborhood was an architecturally notable—and affordable—apartment building.)
The bleak transformation of the neighborhood surrounding the ever-expanding museum is one thing; the museum’s total indifference to the significance of Meridian Street and the transit goals of the city is another.
Most recently, the museum built a “Sports Legends Experience” (an enormous children’s playground) fronting Meridian Street. What the garish “Experience” has to do with the mission of a museum is a legitimate question (and a number of people have asked it), but a far more pertinent one is why the museum thought this was an appropriate use of this particular real estate.
Meridian isn’t just the primary north-south street in Indianapolis; it has long been considered one of the most prestigious residential streets in the state. Even the decades of suburbanization didn’t dim its importance. As this is written, significant sums are being spent to upgrade the stately apartments directly across the street from the unfortunate playground; just a few doors down is an architectural gem, the Drake, which the museum has purchased and proposes to demolish and replace with–wait for it!– yet another parking lot.
On Meridian Street. Where the Red Line–Indianapolis’ first effort at a modern and efficient rapid-transit line– just opened, and where the city administration is prioritizing residential density to support it.
Why the museum acquired the Drake and an adjacent structure is unknown. It certainly doesn’t need more parking (and if it did, it could build another garage on one of the multiple lots it already owns). Museum officials say they issued an RFP, but no developers emerged who wanted to buy and restore the Drake; however, the last time I checked, the museum was stonewalling efforts by the city and Indiana Landmarks (our historic preservation organization) to see that RFP.
The City and local Community Development Corporations have offered to participate financially in rehabilitation of the Drake. Indiana Landmarks has identified potential bidders who could buy and restore the building. An architect friend of mine is working with a developer who has demonstrated capacity and a track record, and who wants to convert the Drake into a boutique hotel.
They have all been rebuffed.
Why the museum is so determined to demolish the historically-significant Drake—especially considering the professed absence of plans for long-range use of the real estate, and despite incompatible priorities of the city– is mystifying.
For many years, the Children’s Museum has been an important asset to Indianapolis. But over the years, that status has encouraged it to act with impunity—to dominate its neighborhood, demolish much of that neighborhood’s built environment, engage in various competitions with for-profit venues, and generally go about its business with little or no regard for the priorities and interests of the city and its residents.
Demolishing the Drake and further mutilating the Meridian streetscape should be a step too far.
The museum’s arrogance is a textbook example of how an asset becomes a liability.