Fall 2013President's Forum

Manuel champions Southside, University’s community role

This op-ed ran in the Indianapolis Star on July 8, 2013.

GatewayA movement is underway on Indianapolis’s Southside, and it deserves the support of the entire city. In neighborhoods from South Street to the Johnson County line, residents, merchants, and officials are joining forces to take charge of their future. That effort will receive an official stamp of approval this fall if the City-County Council and Metropolitan Development Commission approve a proposed Madison Avenue Corridor Economic Development Area. This matters to me because I live and work on the Southside. One year ago, my family and I moved to University Heights, the subdivision founded in tandem with the University of Indianapolis in 1902.

UIndy, to inform its long-term strategic planning process, has been gathering input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and community residents. One clear theme emerging is that the University still shares its success with the residential and commercial areas that surround it. Our campus community and its visitors want the same things our neighbors want: security, a sense of place, and a range of options for transit, shopping, dining, socializing, and living. We regularly host nearly 1,000 employees and more than 5,400 students, as well as their families and friends. Thousands more attend the 250-plus athletic and cultural events that take place each year on our campus. Too often, these people end up driving to the suburbs or Downtown for desired amenities.

It’s not hard to see why, as my family learned upon arrival. Many of the goods, services, and opportunities we sought were simply not here. The empty storefronts, abandoned industrial sites, and aging infrastructure were impossible to ignore. At the same time, however, I learned that the people who live and work here already were taking steps to restore our section of the city to its previous vibrancy, and that UIndy was a central partner in that effort. This is a responsibility the University will embrace even more actively in the years ahead.

With its physical facilities, human and intellectual capital, and $23 million in annual spending within Marion County, UIndy is uniquely positioned as a community anchor and catalyst for redevelopment, especially in the area bounded by Meridian Street and Interstates 65 and 465. We can leverage our strengths in health care, education, business, gerontology, and other fields to make this neighborhood more attractive for current and prospective residents and, in doing so, create a richer and more relevant experience for our students, which remains our primary mission. One idea we’re pursuing is to partner with a healthcare system in establishing a medical facility that would serve local residents and provide clinical experiences and research opportunities for our students and faculty in nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and psychology.

The University is a founding member of the Gateway Community Alliance, a group of interested residents and business owners who revived the annual Miracle Mile parade on Madison Avenue and are installing a landmark arch and streetscape project at the confluence of Madison and East Street, identifying this important and historic southern gateway into the city. UIndy also is active behind the scenes, hosting local meetings on zoning, rapid transit, and the aforementioned redevelopment corridor along Madison Avenue, East Street, and Shelby Street. The proposed economic development area encompasses more than 5,000 acres and more than 30,000 residents. The EDA designation will provide access to grants, tax incentives, and other financial tools to fund improvements, attract new business, generate jobs, and raise property values. Public support is particularly important on July 17, when the Metropolitan Development Commission considers the EDA resolution; on August 26, when the City-County Council’s economic development committee makes its recommendation; and on September 9, when the council itself is expected to vote on the resolution. This is an important step for Indianapolis. Let’s all get behind it.

—Robert L. Manuel

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