INDIANAPOLIS– The Walker Legacy Center, by its sheer name, is entrusted with safeguarding the history of Madame CJ Walker and the hair-care empire she built as a successful African-American businesswoman in the early 20th century.
The Walker Theater also sits on a valuable piece of real estate in the 700 block of Indiana Avenue that includes the iconic theater, a parking lot and a non-descript three-story office building.
The dream was to develop the property with Buckingham Companies into a $70 million, five-story, 350-unit apartment building with retail and a parking garage to serve the nearby IUPUI student community and residents who want to live near downtown.
Buckingham Companies has announced its backing out of the project.
Neighbors are relieved.
“It was the wrong type of development for that area,” said Ebony Chappell who facilitated community conversations regarding the proposal. “It didn’t take into consideration the future of what Indiana Avenue could look like. An apartment building with people who are transient living there? What does that mean for the future? That’s not adding anything. It’s not promoting the legacy of what that area meant which was a cultural hub and area to promote black businesses.”
“Indiana Avenue has such history and what was the benefit for? Was it for the people or was it just for the plans of building a fancy living space?” asked Rebecca Robinson, an artist. “It’s a small space and I think and we’re taking the right steps to figure what can we do to really make use of the space so that we’re giving back to the community and preserving history?”
During the last century, Indiana Avenue was the center of Indianapolis’ Black cultural, artistic and business community.
Jazz clubs lined the Avenue where homegrown musical giants such as Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard and Slide Hampton played notes first taught them in IPS.
“These are the guys who made themselves famous playing up and down Indiana Avenue,” said Rick Oldham, owner of Musicians Repair & Sales at Vermont and Capitol. “They brought music from the inner city to Indiana Avenue and to all of us.”
The Buckingham Companies and the Walker Legacy Center did not respond to a request for comment on the cancellation of the project.