Neighborhood Visionary Project: Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center

Chase-231x300Vibrant neighborhoods. Impassioned community leadership. Engaged residents.

They’re all components of a successful city. And ambitious projects like the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center show that Indianapolis is rich in all three.

It hasn’t always been that way—especially not on the city’s Near Eastside. For decades, the area was characterized by vacant homes and storefronts, rising crime rates, and the collapse of key neighborhood institutions. But five years ago, a group of dedicated residents came together under the auspices of the Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiatives (GINI) and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to improve their community through a bold and comprehensive quality-of-life plan.

The quality-of-life plan was designed to encourage grassroots leadership, foster community involvement, motivate residents to get involved with educational opportunities, and help develop affordable and attractive housing. After the hard work of developing the plan was done, the neighborhood got to work implementing the plan and seeking out partners to help them make progress.

LISC director Bill Taft noted the upcoming Indianapolis Super Bowl bid and saw an opportunity. The local Super Bowl bid leadership wanted to include a Legacy Project—a component designed to create a long-lasting civic legacy. What if the Near Eastside quality-of-life plan became the 2012 Super Bowl Legacy Project?

Taft pitched the idea to Super Bowl Bid Committee Chair Mark Miles, who reviewed the plan with the NFL and some of Indy’s civic leaders. The consensus was that the Near Eastside was ideal for the Legacy Project, largely due to its well-developed quality-of-life plan.

In working toward the goals of the plan, LISC, the John H. Boner Community Center, and other partners collaborated with the Super Bowl Host Committee to create a community youth and recreation center for the Near Eastside. The result is the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, a 27,000 square-foot facility loaded with useful amenities for the community. The building was made possible with LISC’s New Market Tax Credit investment of more than $14 million and additional funding from Chase, Lilly Endowment Inc., the United Way of Central Indiana, the Lumina Foundation, United Water, and the NFL.

“Neighborhoods are the foundation of any great city,” said Dennis Bassett, chairman of Chase in Indiana. “That’s why we chose to invest our time and money alongside LISC and other great partners in this community center. It’s important to us that Indianapolis is a great place to live, work, and do business.”

The Legacy Center houses a public fitness center, media studio, mobile computer lab, education greenhouse and garden, instructional kitchen, art studio, and more. But the benefits go beyond the building itself. It’s also about the partnerships created through the community center to bring people—especially kids—the opportunity to have exciting educational experiences.

“We have so many great partnerships with organizations throughout the city that really make the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center unique,” said Joe Mathews, co-chair, Community Recreation/NFC Practice Facility Committee of the Super Bowl Host Committee. “We partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters, IUPUI, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and lots of other groups that bring fun opportunities and classes to the neighborhood.”

Classes offered at the Legacy Center include cooking, gardening, kickboxing, drumming, general fitness, Zumba, singing, painting, and more. Community response to these programs has been huge—more than 800 children have participated and more than 2,000 people have joined the Legacy Center Fitness Zone. And while there’s a small fee to join the Fitness Zone, most classes are completely free—all you have to do is sign-up.

“When we started planning the Legacy Center, we didn’t know what types of services and classes we wanted to offer,” said James Taylor, CEO of the John H. Boner Community Center, which owns and operates the Legacy Center. “So we sat down with the residents and asked, ‘What kinds of opportunities are you looking for?’ The responses from the community have been overwhelming, and luckily we’ve been able to fulfill many of these requests because of all the partnership support we’ve received.”

“Getting the residents involved has been the key,” Taylor continued. “We had over 600 people from the neighborhood show up for the groundbreaking, and that was really a special moment. And because of moments like that, our community here on the Near Eastside is getting stronger every day.”