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INDIANAPOLIS — For more than a century, the Central State campus served those suffering from mental illness. Now, amidst a housing boom, the city is looking to capitalize on the last few remaining sites.

In January, the Department of Metropolitan Development started asking developers how they would use three sites at the campus on the near westside. They hope this development will build on the momentum on the near westside.

Department of Metropolitan Development

“We’ve seen multifamily, single-family, a mix of market and affordable housing, and so really the city’s goal, and priority at this point is to have amenities like hotel, retail, office and some type of art space in this in this development,” said Portia Bailey-Bernard, Vice President, Indianapolis Economic Development at Indy Chamber.

The city has been working to redevelop the campus since purchasing the 160-acre site from the State of Indiana in 2004. While they are working on reinvigorating the campus, they are trying to honor the site’s past.

“This site does have a rich and interesting history and we do want to be respectful of that while also bringing it to life as a neighborhood now,” said Scarlett Andrews, director of the Department of Metropolitan Development.

The city is looking for developer input on how to use the Central State Powerhouse, Fire Station 18, and the Tibbs Garage and Complex. We got to take an inside look at the powerhouse and learned the history of the Central State campus and the locations the city is looking to redevelop.

History of the Central State Campus

Indiana Historical Bureau

In 1848, a new hospital opened in Indianapolis to help address a mental health crisis in the city. The Indiana Medical History Museum says before the hospital opened, people with severe mental illness frequently ended up in poor houses or in jails where they were treated the same as criminals.

The Indiana Hospital for the Insane opened with the goal of helping people recover from their mental disorders and return to their families.

In its founding, the museum says it followed the ideas of Moral Treatment, a way of thinking that mental diseases could be studied, treated and prevented like other diseases. The thought was more care, beautiful surroundings, structured lives and lots of fresh air and sunshine could help improve a person’s condition.

Unfortunately, this grand vision did not last.

Data in slideshow credit: Indiana Historical Bureau and Department of Metropolitan Development

In 1896, the hospital constructed one of the nation’s first pathology labs. This department contributed to identifying the scientific origins of mental illness.

The institution changed its name in 1889 to Central State Hospital for the Insane and again in 1927 to Central State Hospital. The bureau says while the reasoning behind the change was not listed, an article in The Republic alludes to changing perspectives about insanity.

Central State Hospital closed in 1994 in favor of community-based mental healthcare.

Evolving campus

Photo//Department of Metropolitan Development

During the last ten years, the historic Central State Campus has experienced a resurgence. The department said Central State now offers a wide range of amenities including:

  • The Grove (an eight-acre, tree-filled, green space at the center of campus)
  • Community greenspace
  • A public running track and football field
  • Indiana Medical History Museum
  • 1899 Event Venue
  • Christel House Academy West
  • Café Mansion coffee shop
  • Four (4) public child play areas

Since 2017, Central State has seen a housing boom, with over 100 single-family homes and 60 townhomes built so far. There are also three affordable multi-family developments, with two on the way in 2022.

The department also anticipates the development of The Plaza at Central Greens, an affordable multifamily and commercial mixed-use project that will provide a playground and other community facilities, to be constructed in 2024.

The department hopes redevelopment of the Central State Powerhouse, Old IFD 18 and the Tibbs Avenue Garage and Complex will continue this growth.

Central State Powerhouse

Sitting vacant since the closure of the hospital, this 15,000 square foot building is the oldest remaining building at the site. The building was constructed nearly 40 years after the hospital’s inception and helped generate electricity for the many buildings on the campus.

The powerhouse is located on the newly constructed Kirkbridge Drive. The Department for Metropolitan Development says the site has ample opportunity for restoration and repurposing.

“It’s not in wonderful condition at this point, but it does have some really unique historic character,” said Andrews. “I think so it’ll be interesting to see what proposals we get.”

The building has seen a lot of deterioration in the last nearly 30 years. In parts of the building, the roof has collapsed, letting in the elements. The floor has crumbled in other locations, giving a look into the basement of the building.

Vandals have broken windows of the building and sprayed graffiti on almost all of its surfaces. Still, the building retains some of its historic character.

“With an old building like this, and in the condition the powerhouses in, you’ve got to decide if any is actually salvageable to maintain or, or whether you try to maintain some of the facade of the building and the historic character of it but then clear out some of the other stuff,” said Andrews. “So certainly all of those challenges in terms of structural integrity.”

Andrews imagines this facility becoming an event space or some kind of hospitality space. It could also become some kind of neighborhood-based retail or gathering space, even some type of office creative space.

Old IFD Station 18

Photo//Department of Metropolitan Development

Built in 1936, this 3,970-square foot Art Morderne style building was designed by local architects Pierre & Wright. The Department of Metropolitan Development says this building is notable for its ingenuity and advancement in fire station design in Indiana.

The building melded national building trends with local needs. It became a precedent for future stations, with the design being adopted regionally.

Pierre and Wright Architectural Records Collection
, Ball State University

The building has been vacant since 1994, when a new fire station was constructed on Warman Avenue, less than a mile away. The fire station underwent a stabilization process in 2019, sealing the roofing system and removing sections of the parapet wall to delay further deterioration.

“This interesting art modern building that has some characters, some history there, and so that one is something that we want to maintain the building itself, because of its architectural integrity,” said Andrews.

The building is on the western half of a two-acre site, partially wooded and undeveloped. The department said this site is uniquely located along the planned IndyGo Blue Line, with the Central Greens stop slated for installation adjacent to the site.

The department wants developers to propose ideas that incorporate transit-oriented development principles for this site.

Tibbs Aveneue Garage and Complex

Photo//Department of Metropolitan Development

This complex was established in 1933 and served as a regional hub for INDOT’s highway operations. This site has two buildings that are currently protected through state action.

Now the facility operates as a unit garage, and is one of only five remaining from the Early Formation and Growth Period in the Greenfield. The southeast corner is still being used as a salt barn by Indianapolis DPW.

The department is looking for proposals for the nine-acre site that focus on adaptive reuse of the buildings and site that preserve the historic fabric of the neighborhood.

While portions of the complex have been determined to be environmentally impacted, the responsible party has acknowledged its obligation to remediate.

“I think you could see something restaurant hospitality brewery space,” Andrews said. “I mean, you could see housing. I mean it is quite a big site. You think you’d probably have to do some new construction if you did that.”

Developers have until April 18 to submit their proposals to the Department of Metropolitan Development.