Salvation Army sues neighboring Children’s Museum over expansion

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The Salvation Army is suing the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, claiming its neighbor’s $35 million outdoor expansion project intrudes on its easements and restricts its access to Illinois Street.

The Children’s Museum is building its attraction, called the Riley Children’s Health Legends Sports Experience, directly to the north of the museum. The project is bounded North Illinois Street on the east and will wrap around the west and north sides of the Salvation Army’s Indiana divisional headquarters at 3100 N. Meridian St.

In its lawsuit filed Thursday morning in Marion Superior Court, the Salvation Army says it has easement rights on the property owned by the museum that allow it access to Illinois Street and give it overflow parking rights.

The Salvation Army asserts in the suit that it acquired the easement rights through a 1993 land swap with the museum. The suit says those easement rights not only give the charity direct access to Illinois Street but allow it to use portions of the parking lots for overflow parking during special events hosted by the headquarters.

Construction of the museum’s project is preventing the Salvation Army from using the easements and, if the project is completed as planned, will permanently deprive the organization of its property rights, the Salvation Army says in its complaint.

The Salvation Army said it would have preferred to resolve the situation without a lawsuit but has received little cooperation from the museum.

“We’re hoping that by going through the courts we can find some resolution to restore our rights,” Maj. Robert Webster, commander of the Salvation Army’s Indiana division, told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “[The project] has made it very difficult for us to continue to safely conduct our business at the Salvation Army headquarters.”

Children’s Museum officials issued a statement to IBJ early Thursday afternoon saying President and CEO Jeffrey Patchen contacted the Salvation Army immediately after it received the lawsuit to express a desire to work out the dispute.

“We have been engaged in discussions with the Salvation Army about this matter for several months, and have been following in good faith a process that the Salvation Army proposed for gathering data before meeting again to discuss a resolution,” the statement read. “Despite having multiple communications with the Salvation Army, we had no notice that they were going to file a lawsuit until this morning.”

The easements are west of the Salvation Army’s headquarters and run from the building’s parking lot directly to Illinois Street, Webster said.

In its site plan for the new project, Webster said, the Children’s Museum provides the Salvation Army access to Illinois Street via an unpaved path that meanders through the outdoor sports experience.

“It goes through hedges and winds around a couple of paths and next to an attraction,” he said. “It takes us into additional parcels that aren’t even ours. It clearly doesn’t make it possible for us to have vehicular traffic going to Illinois Street.”

The Children’s Museum is building the sports park on 7.5 acres. The indoor/outdoor attraction will include activities from a variety of sports, including basketball, football, golf, running, tennis, soccer and motorsports.

IBJ reported the museum’s expansion plans in May 2016 and the museum formally announced the project the following month, as it neared its $35 million fundraising goal.

The Children’s Museum didn’t inform the Salvation Army of its expansion plans until the public announcement, the charity said in its suit. The Salvation Army since has made several attempts to resolve the issue privately, it said, but the concerns have gone unresolved.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the Children’s Museum,” Webster said, “but they’re asking us to do stuff now that is unsafe.”

The Salvation Army still has access to busy Meridian Street, but the restrictions to Illinois Street create an inconvenience that encroaches on its easement rights, Webster said.

The sports park is set to open in the spring of 2018. Plans had been in the works since at least 2012, when the museum purchased both The Drake and The Whitestone apartment buildings to the north of the museum from Indianapolis-based Zender Family Limited Partnership for $1 million each. The Whitestone has been torn down to make way for the expansion.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was created in 1925 and moved to its current location at 3000 N. Meridian St. in 1946. The facility, which is the nation’s largest children’s museum, encompasses 472,900 square feet under roof and houses 120,000 artifacts.

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