Since blog-posting brevity is not usually one of my strong suits, I figured it was time I tackle a subject that has to be short. The topic itself is small. Chances are, I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But it nonetheless caught my attention as a potential harbinger of problems down the road.
The newly completed Mozzo on Virginia Avenue in the Holy Rosary neighborhood has started leasing its residential units. This building and its counterpart, Hinge (just a block further to the southeast) have ushered what hopefully will be a wave of multifamily housing construction in a part of town that is steadily revitalizing. The building fills its parcel elegantly, with a street wall befitting a neighborhood filled with structures that predate the automobile.
The Mozzo doesn’t have a great deal of retail (only 1700 square feet on its southeasternmost corner), but retail absorption rates in central Indy suggest that the area currently struggles with an oversupply—like just about everywhere else in this country. At any rate, the street-level apartment units could adapt to a retail reconfiguration without requiring a great deal of new construction, should the demand rise.
So the real curiosity is that pocket of retail on the one side of the building, at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Merrill Street.
The promotional signs in the window indicate that the space could feature outdoor seating. Are they sure about that?
On one side it fronts a sidewalk of conventional width for this neighborhood: between 3.5 and 4 feet (impeded, per the course for Indianapolis, by utility poles).
On the Virginia Avenue side it fronts a generous, double-barreled sidewalk in the Cultural Trail, with one avenue devoted to bicycle traffic and the other (the one closest to the building) for pedestrians.
Since the Cultural Trail’s primary reason for being is as an active multi-use trail, where’s that outdoor seating going to go?
The only place I can conceive of is the small wedge of pavement to either side of this front door, but I’d be surprised if this space has room for more than two deuces.
What appears to be misinformation embedded in the Mozzo’s promotion of its retail space will probably have little impact on the building’s ability to secure a tenant in the long run. Potentially more problematic is what it suggests about attitudes toward the use of Cultural Trail. This generously sized easement clearly intends to encourage more people to traverse the length of Virginia Avenue by foot or by bike.
Not surprisingly, another huge way to galvanize foot traffic is to saturate the streetscape with activities that promote lateral interest. Storefronts and cafés may seem like clichés in an era of gentrification crusaders, but they generally achieve this coveted goal. Will the retail that many hope will eventually comprise the full length of Virginia Street eventually necessitate a reconfiguration of the Cultural Trail to encompass more passive outdoor uses, such as outdoor café seating? Maybe that first tenant who signs the lease at the Mozzo will encourage some real dialogue.