Cover story: A different kind of destination

By JOHN STRAUSS, Contributing editor

Rendering by: Anderson + Bohlander

The latest chapter in the Mass Ave success story includes a growing list of office, food and entertainment choices sprouting north of 10th Street in a once-forgotten strip between Interstate 70 and the CSX train tracks.

Anchoring the North Mass District is the $25 million Box Factory project from Stenz Corp, Third Street Ventures, and Pure Development at the former headquarters of the US Corrugated Fiber Box Company at 1411 Roosevelt Ave.

The North Mass Boulder fitness and climbing center has already moved in, while the Box Factory also includes 90,000 square feet of commercial office space.

“There is more office density in North Mass now, and the Monon Trail is this space where people naturally want to be – and a connection all the way to Carmel,” said Antone Najem, founder and owner of Third Street Ventures.

“I’ve seen companies investing here because it’s where people want to be – entrepreneurs, artists,     creative people, business people – all together in an area that they care about.”

Najem and others credit the $300 million, 12-acre Bottleworks project from Hendricks Commercial Properties with helping spur development further out in the North Mass District.

The Box Factory (in background) a major anchor in North Mass.

“We’re big on mid-rise development as opposed to the high-rises,” Najem said. “That’s why I think Mass Ave is very successful. I think of Virginia Avenue around Lilly. It’s all mid-rise and low-rise. On Mass Ave, look at the new Bottleworks office building – five stories. People want to be closer to the ground because that’s where everyone connects. It’s human-scale.”

About 300 people work in offices at the Box Factory now. Bicycle Garage Indy, the Live Nation regional headquarters and others are nearby.

Welcome news for neighbors.

The North Mass success is good news for David Scott, president of Spades Park Neighborhood Association, whose borders include the development. Scott said the area had been neglected for a long time but was enjoying this resurgence as a destination.

North Mass Boulder is a popular destination in the unique Near Eastside development.

“For them to create a quality business district, with these heavy hitters investing, including the apartment complex they’re developing, is so important for this area,” he said.

Scott credits Ed and Tom Battista’s investment in the Kan-Kan Cinema and Restaurant, 1258 Windsor St., as a turning point.

“I knew it would attract other entities, because they’ve had such success in the Fountain Square area,” he said. “We now are considered a valuable place for establishing businesses. And I appreciate Kan-Kan getting the ball rolling and proving that there’s viable opportunity in our part of the city.”

Scott and others said the city in general seemed to be emerging from a general slowdown during the COVID epidemic.

“We’re getting clear of that,” he said. “Look at the new builds in our neighborhoods, the renovations, the walking trails, the Nowland Avenue Bridge development. There’s a project under way to clean up Pogue’s Run. This feels like a positive, sustainable pace of development and growth.”

The Spades Park Neighborhood Association is bounded by Rural Street on the east, I-70 on the north, Brookside Parkway South on the south side, and Commerce Drive on the west. Scott said that moving forward, the area could use support for youth development programs.

“Our community is the poorest, most racially diverse part of Indianapolis, so there’s a lot of need for training and support and counseling,” he said. “It’s good to develop areas with brick and mortar, but we also need to develop family units and a sense of community, with all their hopes and dreams.”

Digs Garden Center is another enterprise which draws people to North Mass.

In the meantime, he’s glad to see redevelopment successes extend this far out. “Mass Avenue established a momentum in the Downtown corridor. There’s such a flow of excitement and investment going on,” he said. “Now we’re excited to see the same kind of enthusiasm and quality being extended to our area.”

A different kind of destination.

Heath Hurst lives in the nearby Cottage Home neighborhood and is president of Heath Outdoor, a landscaping company founded in 2009. He began buying property in the North Mass area in 2017.

It was abandoned, really. Hardly anyone was back there,” he said. Heath wasn’t thinking of redevelopment then.

“We’re landscapers, and we needed some room,” he said. “We chose that space because there was nobody there.”

Bicycle Garage Indy has found a home in a one-story building near the Box Factory.

Fast forward seven years, and he’s converting part of his Digs Garden Center at 13th and Columbia streets to an event space with food, a distillery, even a dog park. It’s a popular spot for weddings, Hurst said.

“I had no idea this was happening, but they’re bringing this whole area back to life,” he said of Box Factory and the others. “It’s going to be the place to be.”

Like others, he saw a change during the pandemic.

“COVID actually made Mass Ave blow up even more,” he said. “And now it just keeps getting better. But now they’re running out of room, so it’s going to just keep going northeast.”

Hurst credits the Cultural Trail, the Monon and the trail system in general with spurring more interest in neighborhoods near Downtown.

“People constantly use them for biking and walking,” he said. “These trails connect all the businesses and all the things that you can do.”

North Mass Boulder also boasts the Top Out Cafe a floor above its clothing store and climbing facilities.

Hurst has lived in Cottage Home for 15 years and has two children, ages 10 and 14. His wish for the future is greater focus on roads and schools.

“If they could just take care of those, everything would be fine,” he said. “There are some good schools in IPS. But as a person who has young kids right now, if the school system was a little bit better I think I’d have more of my friends who would live in downtown.”

Work-life balance.

Quality of life comes up a lot when you talk with people about the North Mass District. To Najem, the strong demand for his Box Factory office space says something in a time when the nation is still debating about the balance between office hours and working from home.

“Yes, it’s great being able to work remotely,” he said. “But humans want to be together. So, if your office is in an area where you can be together for work and family – and for things like events, or food, or parades, that means something.

“It means you have options that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

More in the works

The partnership which is advancing the Box Factory project is completing another adaptive reuse effort as part of the North Mass initiative.

Stenz Corp, Third Street Ventures and Pure Development are also developing the Penn Electric building, which is already 75-percent leased. Those tenants include a new effort by Cunningham Restaurant Group, which is developing Shin Dig, a restaurant with 8,000 square feet inside and a large outdoor patio.

This rendering is an early envisioning of the North Mass development. Although the area may not play out as shown here, we use the image to best describe the North Mass location, sandwiched between Interstate 70 and the CSX rail line which runs along Mass Ave on the back side of the Circle City Industrial Complex.

Pure Development itself will become the anchor tenant of Penn Electric this summer. Another tenant will be IMH Products, leaving about 8,000 square feet on Roosevelt Avenue as the only unoccupied space in that building.

Next to Penn Electric is 1255 Roosevelt, where RecycleForce used to be in the old International Paper building. This is about 70,000 square feet, and the developers are in discussion with two Indiana-based businesses about moving there.

The Last Chance wrecker site will be converted to about 100,000 to 140,000 feet of office space, possibly with another restaurant.

Ingram, across from Penn Electric and the Box Factory, will have about 200 units of apartments. And the developers are working with Muhamed Becovic on a plan for 290 apartments along the Monon from 10th Street to 13th Street.