Irvington neighbors find artsy solution to troublesome shopping plaza

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IRVINGTON, Ind. — Neighbors on Indy’s east side say a shopping plaza is becoming a burden on their neighborhood, so they are getting creative with a solution.
Irvington Plaza has been in decline for a few years with various tenants leaving, including Marsh. The drop-off is impacting the plaza’s owner Eric Becker, as well as neighbors who see the vacancies as a catalyst for problems. Last week, a suspect was shot while trying to rob the EZ Pawn there.

“When you have fewer and fewer people going there, there’s fewer and fewer eyes on the street. It’s just a greater opportunity for bad things to happen,” Former Irvington Development Organization (IDO) Executive Director Margaret Banning said.

“I don’t think it reflects the neighborhood right now. I know it doesn’t reflect the neighborhood,” Irvington resident Janet Phelps said.
Phelps, along with a group of 35 neighbors and artists, want to put art and murals up near the vacancies. They hope it can attract a developer to revitalize the plaza or become a temporary band-aid to the eyesore.

“It lends itself, sort of like to sandcastle building, lets build cool temporary things while we are waiting for development to happen, and it brings life back into the area instead of becoming somewhere sketchy to be,” Phelps said.

She would like to see the local youth get involved with the project, considering it would only be temporary.

“You don’t want the art of a 5-year-old to be on the wall for 20 years, but we are not talking 20 years, we are talking a year or two,” Phelps said.

Becker said he is open to art and has already allowed someone to paint a mural behind a building facing the Pennsy Trail.

The city would like to see a developer swoop in and buy the property. City officials brought in the Urban Land Institute to do a study on what the plaza could be, and its economic impact to the region.  They suggested it become a walkable, mixed-use area for retail and living. Banning said the city plans to connect the plaza to the future Blue Line.

“When you have a permanent station like that economic development springs up around it,” Banning said. “This isn’t a band-aid. This isn’t going to be fixed up with some paint. This is gonna take stripping it down, bull doze, start all over again.”

Banning said four or five developers have contacted IDO about the plaza in the past. Becker used to own 36 shopping plazas, but sold all but three in 2005. He has a sale price in mind, but wouldn’t say what that is.

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