Plan: Turn old GM plant into urban neighborhood

The GM stamping plant was built in 1930. It employed 5,000 at its peak.
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INDIANAPOLIS - A General Motors metal stamping plant slated to close this month in Indianapolis could become a funky urban neighborhood if the city follows recommendations it received from a commission Friday.

See the plans here (PDF)

A team affiliated with the Urban Land Institute said the huge plant space across the White River from downtown Indianapolis should include condos and housing for people of all ages, employment opportunities such as start-up companies and its own school. The area would be connected to downtown with an iconic modern-looking bridge and could feature a riverfront park.

Officials said the plan would take 10 to 15 years to implement. It would require the city to gain control of the land from a company cleaning up the plant. The city would then coordinate the area's development by private companies.

The goal is to keep the massive industrial site from becoming a gaping hole, just across the White River from downtown Indianapolis.

At its peak, the plant employed 5,000 people. Now a small crew of workers is cleaning up and cleaning out the two-million-square-foot facility. Most of the GM signs have already been removed from the building.

"When I was younger, it was joy," said 80-year-old Irene Grider.

Grider was eight when her family moved to the neighborhood around the plant.

"To me, it was a good thing, because people were working. Chevrolet was always packed with cars. They seemed like they fit in the neighborhood," she said.

"There's three generations of us living here," said Debra Grider, Irene's daughter.

Her daughter also has fond memories of the neighborhood, known as "The Valley."

"I remember a lot of families and this park and a lot of kids growing up together, all of us friends, in the streets with bicycles and playing. A lot of good times, but it's not like that anymore," Debra said.

"Can't even keep your trash cans out in the alley. This neighborhood is rough," said Rita McDonald.

Grider's grandson has watched his kids grow up in the same neighborhood, but in a different world.

"Today, look around, it's just dead," he said.

"There used to be stores, a candy store, a barbershop, everything around here. Now, it's just mainly rental property, a lot of abandoned houses," said Debra.

Consultants are brainstorming ways to bring that bustling, bright community back.

The reuse commission spent all week talking to more than a hundred people: residents, business , community and city organizations looking for realistic ideas. The 12 member commission, whose members have a track record of urban development in other cities, is chaired by former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut.

"I think we have to be excited. We have to be positive. We have to be forward looking. This is a part of Indianapolis that is important. You can't just leave it sit there. It is a very important site. It has a lot of potential. Our team is very excited about what we are going to be recommending," said Hudnut.

Some residents are a little more skeptical.

"I think it would be a waste of time and money, unless the Indianapolis police come over here and clean it up," said Debra Grider.

Residents of the neighborhood say if the commission really wants to revitalize the area, they're going to have to take their plans beyond the property lines of the plant and into the neighborhood right across the street.

"If they build half a million dollar condos down there, who wants to live in this neighborhood? Look at the sidewalks, look at the streets," said resident Gary Henson.

"What I'd really love to see come through is a theme park with the zoo, the downtown area, a shuttle back and forth. How great would that be? Buy the whole neighborhood," Debra said.

As for Grider, she just wants something that brings in more people.

"Something that will help the neighborhood and build it up. Something that's peaceful," she said.