Children’s Museum lawsuit over Drake moves ahead amid talks with developer

An effort by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to overturn the city’s designation of the Drake apartment building as a historic property has been transferred to federal court — even as the organization continues working with city officials on a plan to salvage the nearby building.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 15, was referred to U.S. District Court on Feb. 12 following the museum’s unsuccessful requests that the city’s Metropolitan Development Commission and the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission withdraw plans to issue the designation for the building.

The Children’s Museum said the commission acted without “proper notice to and participation from” the organization and was denied due process by the two commissions.

In January, when the museum announced it would challenge the city’s designation of the property as historic, officials said the Drake in its current state did little to aid the museum’s mission.

“Historic preservation status for the Drake takes away from the Museum’s long-term flexibility for mission-driven and community-based uses on a property the Museum has owned for nearly eight years,” Jeffrey Patchen, the museum’s CEO, said in an email this week. “It’s important to the Museum, for the long-term, that the Drake’s reuse fulfills the Museum’s mission.”

The museum has also said the pandemic is a hindrance to its ability to absorb revenue losses, adding the Drake’s historical designation could complicate matters.

The museum bought the eight-story building at 3060 N. Meridian St., just north of the museum’s existing complex, in 2012 for $1.25 million. At the time, the building was occupied by tenants and was not designated a historic property.

Tenants moved out in 2016 as the building’s condition continued to deteriorate. Then, in July 2019, the Children’s Museum announced it planned to raze the building, along with the former Salvation Army headquarters building nearby, to make way for new exhibits and parking.

But those plans were thwarted that September, when the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission approved measures to add the Drake building to the Marion County Register of Historic Places and create a historic area plan for the site. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission approved the designation in 2020.

Even as the lawsuit moves forward, museum officials are working with the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development to bring in a private developer to renovate the property.

The firm, Indianapolis-based Van Rooy Properties, was selected by the museum and the city after a lengthy request for inquiry process in September. The firm’s plans for the property are not yet known and a representative did not return calls requesting comment.

In a letter to a museum official dated Feb. 4, provided to IBJ through a public records request, DMD Director Scarlett Martin said the city would be open to paying $1.3 million to secure a leasehold on the property for 99 years — a component that was not in the original RFI but later requested by the museum.

Additionally, she said the city would support tax increment financing and other financing tools, such as a tax abatement, for any deal eventually struck between the museum and Van Rooy. The city is also involved in those discussions, but the letter did not characterize the status of ongoing conversations.

Patchen said the museum hopes to “reach a mutually satisfying resolution” with the city, including a “viable reuse for the Drake.” But the organization also wants to have more flexibility in what that reuse would look like.

“We are hopeful that resolution with the City includes a viable reuse for the Drake, while also preserving the Museum’s ability to use the property in the best interest of the Museum for the long term,” he said.

That approach, Patchen said, is consistent with the museum’s other initiatives, including the Riley Children’s Sports Legends Experience, and the low-cost apartments and green space recently built on the former Winona Hospital site.

The city declined to comment on the ongoing dispute with the museum, citing pending litigation.

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