Timing of massive warehouse fire raises questions

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As investigators wait to enter the site of a massive abandoned warehouse in Indianapolis, questions are mounting in regards to the timing of the fire.

The fire, which firefighters battled for 15 hours Sunday night into Monday, took place just days before county commissioners were to vote on the building’s redevelopment.

Marion County has had a lien on the old Holcomb & Hoke Manufacturing Co. because the owners haven’t paid taxes or responded to numerous code violations. Cindy Land, Administrative Deputy for the Marion County Treasurer, says two development groups were prepared to go before the commissioners on Thursday to pitch their plans, but the fire complicated the entire process.

“Just unbelievable,” Land said when asked about the fire. “Devastating.”

Land says she was set to recommend a plan to County Commissioners, which proposed turning the contaminated 9 acre site into the Gardens of Van Buren, a 70-unit housing facility for low income senior citizens.

“We felt like we had a great plan, or were moving in a great direction,” Land said. “And then this happened.”

The fire complicates the proposals for the senior living center and another plan for a multi-family low-income apartment complex, but Land said all isn’t lost.

“I’m still hopeful that we can proceed and that one of these parties will still be eligible or interested,” Land said.

Despite the odd timing of the fire, Land says the potential developers both had an interest in keeping the warehouse in tact because it would have provided potential tax credits, but that doesn’t mean everyone wanted redevelopment to happen. Several people in the nearby neighborhood told Fox59 that they didn’t know about plans for senior housing. Instead, they believed redevelopment was going to create low-income housing that would bring increased crime to their area of town.

“I wouldn’t want to live here with that going on and my neighbors, I’ve talked to them, they wouldn’t want it either,” said Tonda Carter.

Though Carter and others acknowledged opposition to redevelopment, she said she hadn’t heard of anyone wanting to take matters into their own hands.

“If they had to, they had talked about getting a petition up, but other than that… no violent thoughts,” Carter said.

Still, she said the timing doesn’t seem like coincidence.

“It just seems odd that it’s got a public hearing for it to go up for something and all of a sudden now the fire,” Carter said.

Investigators could be forced to wait up to four days to enter the site due to environmental testing by the EPA and unsafe walls that need to be torn down.

Marion County Commissioners still plan to hear from the two potential developers during a meeting Thursday afternoon.