Keep Indianapolis Beautiful hoping to spruce up vacant properties

The Indy group saw examples of how KCB had cleaned up vacant lots and painted murals, abandoned buildings and put up picket fences.
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Keep Indianapolis Beautiful wants to help the city make abandoned properties if not beautiful, at least presentable.

This week KIB took a group of city leaders to Cincinnati to see how Keep Cincinnati Beautiful is sprucing up vacant properties in a targeted area with the hope of drawing investors.

"Vacancy is a huge detriment, but when vacancy is addressed it can really turn around a neighborhood," said KIB President David Forsell.

Not only does Indianapolis have thousands of abandoned properties, but the Indy Land Bank is now on hold due to a federal investigation. The Land Bank is one way the city markets vacant properties and gets them back on the tax rolls.

Forsell said Cincinnati's beautification program "is an intermediate step that creates opportunity in the minds of others."

The Indy group saw examples of how KCB had cleaned up vacant lots and painted murals, abandoned buildings and put up picket fences.

KIB's Joe Jarzen also participated in the trip.

"They're doing various things to just give it that look it's being cared for and it's a very quick and easy way to do it," he said.

Information from KCB says since the program called Future Blooms began a few years ago, littering, blight and crime all dropped by double digits in the targeted area.

Jarzen said, "Their approach is working. It's something that could happen in Indianapolis. It's just nailing down the specifics, like funding."

He said Cincinnati spends about $400 per house or $60,000 a year on the program.

Republican City-County Councilor Jeff Miller, one of two councilors on the trip, said he was impressed by what he saw.

He said doing cosmetic fixes "just might entice some [investors] to say I see the potential here. It could have an impact."

Karl Mueller, who's lived in Fountain Square for ten years, an area undergoing a lot of rebab, agrees it's important to keep up vacant properties.

"Keeping [properties] looking decent is really powerful, particularly in neighborhoods that have the potential for transition," he said.

Forsell said, "We need to take a step to begin tackling this and taking small bites out of a big problem. One way to do that is to maintain vacant land as an asset."

Miller said the group that travelled to Cincinnati plans to meet in early August to "regroup, decide what do we do. Do we have private partners here? Which properties do we go after first?"

He said as in Cincinnati, it's probably best to target one neighborhood.

Mueller said keeping up vacant properties does more than generate interest in redevelopment.

"If the property is presentable, even if it's empty, it just produces a more uplifting attitude in the residents," he said.