The recent award of a Brownfields Multipurpose Grant to the City of Indianapolis marks the fifth investment by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 2015 that will directly affect the IndyEast Promise Zone (IEPZ). This latest award represents a continuing commitment to environmental remediation and redevelopment by the EPA, the City, and our community. Brownfields, as designated by the EPA, are sites with heavy known or perceived contamination that threatens the surrounding areas and creates a barrier to future development. Many brownfields can be found within the IEPZ. The Promise Zone sits in the heart of the Midwest, where the loss of industrial operations over the last half-century has left massive areas of land both contaminated and abandoned. The brownfields in the IEPZ, given their varying sizes and locations, offer exciting opportunities for future investment and development. The process of getting these sites to the point where they can be redeveloped is difficult and expensive, but it becomes easier with the help of federal funding. The EPA has made annual funding available through its Brownfields & Land Revitalization Program. The grants made through this program are often designated for a specific step in the reuse process, such as planning, assessment, or cleanup. However, the Brownfields Multipurpose Grant that was just awarded to the City of Indianapolis in June 2019 allows funds to be used more broadly. This most recent grant will allow the city to allocate funds to be used for different steps in the remediation process. Projects in the IEPZ are set to receive funding to continue a community-wide effort that spans back to many years, even before the Promise Zone designation.
The first EPA award that impacted the IEPZ came in September of 2015 when the City of Indianapolis was awarded a $400,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant. The funds from this award were used to assess hazard substance and petroleum contaminated sites, mainly in the Mass Ave and Brookside Ave corridor. The City began the process of grant implementation by organizing meetings with stakeholders and sending representatives to community meetings, including Promise Zone committee meetings. The plan that was established involved both Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments (ESAs). A Phase II assessment, which involves investigation of contamination through various forms of testing, is necessary when a Phase I assessment documents the existence of contamination. Nine sites were able to undergo Phase I assessment using funds from the EPA grant. Of those sites, three are within the Promise Zone. These sites were the former Hoyt Machine Shop on Samoa Street, a former service station on East 16th Street, and multiple parcels at Sherman Park located along Michigan Street. All three of these sites, along with the former site of a liquor store on East Washington Street, underwent Phase II assessment as well. The results at the sites varied based on specific types and levels of contamination. Most of the properties required further monitoring or action. However, the site of East 16th St was granted No Further Action status, paving the way for redevelopment. All of the sites, regardless of the results of assessment, were closer to future redevelopment with the help of the EPA funds.
In 2017, Near East Area Renewal (NEAR) was awarded a $200,000 Area Wide Planning grant by the EPA, the second of the agency’s grants that has affected the Promise Zone. NEAR, a Promise Zone implementation partner, has used this grant to promote community collaboration and planning. The EPA funds have been used to plan the redevelopment process at Sherman Park, with a focus on community ideas and needs (see our past story on Sherman Park). NEAR proposed a four-part plan as the outline for the planning project. This plan included community outreach, gathering existing information, researching community assets and needs, and creating a final report on the plan for Sherman Park. This plan is now finished, and can be found online here, or by searching “Sherman Park Plan.” The plan details the known contamination on different parcels of land at Sherman Park, and gives guidelines on next steps for remediation and redevelopment. The plan also outlines the demographics and needs of the community before listing the kinds of redevelopment that will be possible on the different areas of Sherman Park. This plan provides a vision of what the future of Sherman Park will be, and is a valuable asset to the community as redevelopment efforts continue. The outline provided by the plan will allow community members to have a say in what developments are happening in their neighborhoods. The community-based efforts will also promote job creation and sustainability as the process of redevelopment continues.
Pictured Above: Aerial view of Sherman Park and surrounding neighborhood
In addition to the Area Wide Planning grant, the EPA awarded the City of Indianapolis another Brownfields Assessment Grant in 2017. This grant focused on similar sites to the 2015 grant, but this time within the IEPZ. The Mass Ave and Brookside Ave corridor grant was used at a few sites within the Promise Zone, but wasn’t exclusively limited to it. With the new funding in 2017, totaling $300,000, the Promise Zone was the sole focus. Two sites were chosen for assessment with the new grant: Sherman Park and Twin Aire. Both sites were formerly home to heavy industrial operations. The Sherman Park site was partially assessed using the first Brownfields Assessment grant from 2015, but the area is massive and still contained more unassessed land. The process for both sites was to engage the community in the process leading up to assessment, take inventory of the different parcels and prioritize tasks, complete Phase I and Phase II ESAs of the target areas, and then plan for cleanup. Initial planning outlined the potential for twelve Phase II ESAs, four hazardous material surveys, six Phase II ESAs, and four cleanup plans. With the grant period more than 50-percent complete, much of that work is now done. This grant will be crucial to future redevelopment plans at Sherman Park and Twin Aire- allowing for community growth, job creation, and sustainable infrastructure.
In 2018, the City of Indianapolis was again able to leverage EPA funds, when it was awarded a third Brownfields Community Wide Assessment grant. Like the previous grant, this award totaled $300,000. For this grant, the City chose to focus on the Southeast Neighborhoods. Part of the reasoning behind choosing the Southeast Neighborhoods, besides the high level of need, was the coexistence and interdependence between them and the IEPZ. Piers Kirby, Principal Project Manager for the City of Indianapolis’ Brownfields Redevelopment Program, explained how the connection between the two areas was determined: “So we applied for the Promise Zone assessment grant in 2016, when the [request for proposal] from the EPA was sent out. And then we got notice that the grant was being awarded in May 2017. During that time we were getting quite a lot of requests for assistance from the Southeast Neighborhoods. There was a definite need being demonstrated in that area of town. Because there was overlap and the Promise Zone was so extensive, we thought that it would be good to put those funds in the area where the most needs were being demonstrated.” The City felt that the two areas needed to assess and address their Brownfields needs together, and since the Promise Zone was the focus of the previous grant, the Southeast Neighborhoods have been the focus of this grant. Within the Southeast Neighborhoods, three target corridors were chosen to be assessed. These corridors were Washington St, Shelby St, and Morris St. Each area was chosen because it contained brownfields that posed a threat to the surrounding community. The plan for this Assessment grant was similar to the previous one, with an outline to complete twelve Phase I ESAs, four hazardous materials surveys, six Phase II ESAs, and four cleanup plans. Currently, the grant period is less than a third of the way complete, so these projects are active. The progression of the brownfields assessments in the Southeast Neighborhoods will catalyze growth and redevelopment for an area that has high need and high capacity. Additionally, the partnerships that have been created between the IEPZ and organizations in the Southeast Neighborhoods will allow the growth of either community to benefit the other, as community-serving organizations in both areas continue to promote collaboration and teamwork. The work happening in both areas has already shown positive results, and will only continue to benefit community members as these projects move forward.
The most recent EPA funding to be awarded to Indianapolis, the Brownfields Multipurpose grant, is the most valuable and flexible of any of the awards so far. This grant brings $600,000 to Indianapolis and can be used for initial planning, assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment planning. This multipurpose grant is one of only 11 that were awarded for fiscal year 2019. If a potential grantee wishes to apply for a Brownfields Multipurpose grant, it cannot apply for any other brownfields grants for the grant cycle. The City’s choice to apply for the grant was indeed a risk, but was made with confidence. When asked about the decision, Piers Kirby expressed this confidence: “We felt that we stood at least a good a chance as anybody else applying.” He cited a strong relationship with the EPA as well as the capacity to administer grants demonstrated by use of past EPA funds as major factors in the decision making process. The City has chosen to allocate funding from the multipurpose grant to the Black Mountain site within the IEPZ. Black Mountain was the name given to roughly 120,000 ton pile of used foundry sands located in the 3500 block of East Washington Street. The sands were dumped at the site starting in 1999 when the land was leased to a recycling company which struck a deal with a local foundry. Sands from the pile are blown around by wind, spreading contamination and causing problems for neighbors who live near the site. Cleanup at the site has been continually delayed as different parties have refused to take responsibility for the issue and have been locked in legal battles. However, earlier in 2019, the Department of Business and Neighborhood services and the Department of Metropolitan Development worked together on emergency demolition and blight elimination at the site. Most of the pile of sands has now been removed from the property. With this action and the EPA funds being allocated to the site, the surrounding neighborhood can finally be confident that change is coming. As has been the case with other projects funded by EPA grants, an important aspect in the process of redeveloping the Black Mountain site will be community input and involvement. The model that has worked for Near Eastside neighborhoods is to be collaborative and inclusive in planning redevelopment, and these upcoming projects will work the same way. There will be a series of public meetings regarding the Brownfields Multipurpose grant after Phase II assessments are complete. While the announcement of the award has been made, the grant period does not begin until October 1, 2019. These upcoming projects will provide environmental justice and closure to a community that has long advocated for remediation at a property which can be so valuable if reused correctly.
Pictured Above: Black Mountain site before emergency demolition and cleanup
With the continued commitment of EPA funds to the City of Indianapolis and the IEPZ, sites throughout the Promise Zone have been pushed towards redevelopment. Industrial reuse is one of the most vital strategies that can be implemented to help communities like Indy’s Near Eastside thrive. The projects that have been finished and will continue to take place because of EPA funding have helped promote the goals of the IEPZ. Both the Work IndyEast and Buy IndyEast goal platforms are heavily linked with the ongoing redevelopment efforts within the Promise Zone. Work IndyEast goals center around creating strong commercial and industrial zones where neighbors can find jobs that pay a living wage. This goal is promoted through the brownfields remediation process which will lead to the development of new commercial and industrial enterprises. These enterprises will be more environmentally sustainable that previous developments while also creating jobs in the community. The process of remediation also promotes job creation and depends on local businesses and developers. A sub-goal of the Work IndyEast platform is to create and support strong infrastructure, which is a key component of the redevelopment projects funded by the EPA grants. Upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure at the remediated sites and in the surrounding areas will be key to maintaining strong commercial activity into the future. The Buy IndyEast platform relates to the Work platform in that it focuses on commercial development, but is more oriented around providing goods and services that neighbors want and need and making the Near Eastside a desirable shopping, dining, and recreation destination. One of the key ties between the industrial reuse happening in our community and the Buy IndyEast platform is the continued involvement of community members in the planning and implementation process. Community input has been a central theme for all of the redevelopment efforts that have been aided with EPA funding. These community-driven efforts will lead to the development of the businesses and resources that the community needs.
The dedication of Near Eastside neighbors and stakeholders to sustainable growth and community-driven redevelopment has uniquely situated our community to attract outside funding while maintaining our commitment to each other. The five separate EPA awards that have helped fund environmental remediation efforts in the IEPZ are testament to the impressive capacity of this community has built. Piers Kirby, talking about the success the City has had in leveraging federal funds, praised the Near Eastside: “The neighborhood is very highly organized. There are neighborhoods and [community development corporations] working together towards common goals…The Near Eastside has a story to tell.” The future story for sites like Sherman Park and the Black Mountain site looks much clearer and brighter because of the action that has been enabled by federal funding and the organization of Near Eastside neighborhoods and organizations. The redevelopment of those sites and many more will spur exponential growth in the IndyEast Promise Zone while providing neighbors with the jobs, services, and spaces that they need. Thanks to EPA funding the Near Eastside is cementing its position as one of the most promising areas of Indianapolis while setting an excellent example of how to do redevelopment and industrial reuse the right way.