Downtown Buildings: New Owners, New Tenants
Keith Roysdon, The Star Press 5/19/13
We’ve heard it many times: Downtown Muncie is on the verge of rebirth.
And we’ve been disappointed many times.
Officials and downtown stakeholders are pointing to a series of recent events and milestones — some connected, others not — that they say signals a renewed level of interest and investment in the core of downtown:
* The STAR Plaza building, the gateway to the northern end of downtown, has new owners after foreclosure and years of neglect.
* The former Sears and Delaware County Community Corrections building on Walnut Street in the heart of downtown will be the site of a new gym.
* Barn Brasserie, the successor to White River Landing downtown, could open within the month.
The new development comes just as downtown Muncie — in the early stages of a marketing campaign tied to the theme of “DWNTWN: The Original Muncie” — sees the potential for tens of millions of dollars in new development.
Work is underway on a $17 million project to redevelop the former Roberts Hotel into senior apartments. Mayor Dennis Tyler is working with The Arc of Indiana, an advocacy group, on a planned downtown hotel and possible parking garage. More than $1 million in Muncie Community Development funding is planned to spark private investment in restoring the historic facades of several downtown buildings. A streetscape project to remake Walnut Streets curbs and sidewalks is planned.
And the Muncie Downtown Development Partnership recently announced that the group has been accredited as a National Main Street Program participant.
“I think we’re beginning to see a tremendous growth spurt in the downtown area,” Mayor Dennis Tyler said. “People are wanting to invest their money in the downtown area and I think it will broaden out to other neighborhoods too.”
B.J. McKay, a management consultant, said he and his business partner, John Hill, want to open the Arsenal crossfit gym at 115 S. Walnut in part because of the potential for walk-in traffic and also because of the city facade program, which will include his site in the building owned by businessman Bill Smith.
But McKay said there was another reason.
“There’s been much more of a focus on drawing people downtown, and I wanted to be part of that,” McKay said.
New life for landmark
The STAR Plaza building, 40,000 square feet of office space that also includes the downtown location of STAR Financial Bank, has been neglected in recent years.
The building had been owned by Bloomington businessman Peter Dvorak, whose other major local property was the Roberts Hotel. In the later half of the 2000s, Dvorak closed the hotel and mounted a failed remodeling attempt. His Bloomington company went out of business and both the Roberts and the STAR building fell into foreclosure.
A group of local investors, including Monte Brown and Mike Lunsford of Coldwell Banker Lunsford and longtime business leader Frank Petty, recently bought the STAR building.
“It seemed like a good opportunity to do something to help that north entryway into downtown,” Brown said. “That building has been so neglected for so long. We were able to get it at a pretty good price ($875,000).”
Brown and his partners will begin repairs to the building, which besides STAR Bank has tenants including the FBI. About half the building is leased, and Brown said a goal is to find occupants for the rest.
“It’s a focal point downtown and it’s been neglected for a long time,” Brown said. “Financially, we’ll do well, but we fell like it’s good for the community to have that building in local hands and redeveloped in a way that will make a positive impact on downtown.”
Good fit for longtime building
Work has already begun — and drywall dust is flying — at the Walnut Street building where McKay and Hill’s Arsenal crossfit gym will be open as early as June 21.
Crossfit is an exercise discipline that provides for both competitive and collaborative workouts. Experienced workout devotees encourage their comrades.
McKay and Hill had 29 members lined up as of last week — ranging in age from 8 to 60 — and need about 70 to make their financial goal.
The Walnut Street location is a huge plus, McKay said, noting not only the windows along Walnut Street but the proximity to government buildings, banks, Ivy Tech Community College and local restaurants.
“We want to be one of the cornerstones that builds up downtown,” McKay said.
Contact business editor Keith Roysdon at 213-5828 and follow him on Twitter at @keithroysdon.
Downtown named National Main Street
Muncie Downtown Development Partnership recently announced that the group had been designated as National Main Street program participant.
The downtown met commercial district revitalization performance standards set by the National Main Street Center, a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The organization is evaluated by the Indiana Main Street program with an eye toward communities that “are building comprehensive and sustainable revitalization efforts and include standards such as developing a mission, fostering strong public-private partnerships, securing an operating budget, tracking economic progress and preserving historic buildings.”
Joann McKinney, CEO of the Horizon Convention Center and president of the MDDP board, said, “Having a sustainable downtown provides us with a significant advantage when attracting new business to our community.”
The program, in 2,200 downtowns and neighborhoods in the past 30 years, has sparked more than $55 billion in new public and private investment and revitalized more than 236,000 buildings.