East side mall starts transformation into emergency center

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INDIANAPOLIS - The old Eastgate Mall has a bright future.

A project to develop the blighted building into an Emergency Operations Center just got the financial green light and Monday started its conversion.

Cathy Clark has lived on the east side for more than 20 years, the last two just blocks from the abandoned Eastgate Mall.

"It's an eyesore. Yeah, it looks bad, and when things look like that it's going to bring crime," she said.

"A lot of people thought it should be torn down and start over, but the new owner says he's going to work with what he has there and bring it back," added neighbor Ron Hudelson, the Vice President of Sincere Auto.

Once a bustling home to Woolworth's, the big "H" from the department store sign now stands for Homeland Security. The City of Indianapolis is moving ahead with plans to convert a fourth of the building to house an $18 million Regional Operations Center for Marion and Hendricks counties.

The owner of the building just got his loan approved last week.

"I've been told it's going to be the 911 call center, it's also going to be the home of Homeland Security, SWAT team and the East District IMPD roll call," explained Hudelson.

"The regional operations center will certainly support all the police and fire agencies in our county," said Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub.

The center will act as a real-time crime center, like those in Memphis, Chicago, and Los Angeles, dispatching police, fire and EMS to trouble spots. Part of the draw to this location is actually what's underground. It was built with a fortified basement, which is basically a bomb shelter.

Above ground, a cinder block wall will protect sensitive data during major events like the Super Bowl and weather emergencies.

"The building would be rated to take, like a Level 3 or Level 4 tornado head-on and continue to operate," explained Straub.

Despite losing a $7 million federal grant, Straub says enough money was set aside from previous grants to stay the course, spreading out the $18 million price tag over a 25-year lease.

"If you have a lot of jobs in there, then you're going to have the people eating in the restaurants and using the companies that are service providers in the area, and the east side could use that," said Clark.

"It's going to be a very, very good improvement to the neighborhood," added an elated Hudelson.

Crews are prepping to install fiber optics and a new roof. The FBI will also have a place inside the center and is donating office furniture for the regional center.

Straub says the work should be complete by December 1, giving a couple of months to work out the bugs before the Super Bowl.