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Preservationists call Hogsett’s Eleven Park proposal ‘best possible option’

Preservationists back new Greenlawn proposal for Eleven Park soccer stadium site

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Two prominent local historians on Tuesday said Mayor Joe Hogsett’s proposal for a memorial park at the Diamond Chain site solves several problems at once.

The site of the former Diamond Chain factory is where Keystone Group and Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir is trying to build Eleven Park, a multiuse development centered on a Major League Soccer-grade stadium.

The site was originally home to a cluster of early cemeteries collectively known as Greenlawn Cemetery. Since construction of Eleven Park began last year, workers have recovered 87 sets of human remains. Eunice Trotter, the director of the Black Heritage Preservation Program at Indiana Landmarks, said thousands of people could still be buried at the site, especially many of the city’s early Black residents.

Trotter said most records of Black burials have been lost except for a nine-year period in which roughly 1,300 people were interred at Greenlawn. Although thousands of people buried at Greenlawn were reburied at Crown Hill and Floral Park years later, Trotter said there is no way to know how many have been left behind.

“There’s no evidence that all of the people, by any stretch of the imagination, were taken from that cemetery and reburied in other cemeteries,” she said. “So we do know that cemetery was filled to capacity. And not only was it filled to capacity, but there were layered burials that occurred there.”

The city withdrew from the Eleven Park project earlier this spring. Last week, Hogsett sent Keystone Group a letter offering to buy the site at fair market value. He later told reporters he was interested in turning the site into a memorial park. Trotter said Hogsett’s efforts to preserve the burials at Greenlawn are a welcome break from the city’s past policies.

“Historically, the right thing was not done by the city of Indianapolis,” Trotter said. “There were efforts to create a park decades ago and that fell short because of the encroachment of development on that site.”

Leon Bates, a local historian and Ph.D. candidate in Pan-African studies at the University of Louisville, said he considers Hogsett’s proposal the best possible option. He said this is the fourth time in the city’s history the Greenlawn site has been dug up. Each time, more remains were found.

Bates said a proposal to move remains to Mount Jackson Cemetery on the west side doesn’t work because the city already declared it full in 1919. He said the Greenlawn cemeteries combined covered roughly 25 acres.

“We still have 20-plus acres of cemetery to go and there’s not enough room for this 100 (already found),” Bates said. “So where do they plan to bury the other hundreds, if not thousands of other people still left in here?”

Keystone Group did not return News 8’s request for comment for this story. In response to Hogsett’s offer last week, company officials said in a statement, “We intend to correct the record as it relates to our ongoing efforts to work with the community to offer peaceful reinternment for those buried in a site that for over a century has been disregarded and disrespected… it is our hope Mayor Hogsett will once again retake the reins of his own administration and join us in a thoughtful, adult discussion on the future of soccer and downtown development in our state’s capital city.“

Officials will hold a public hearing Tuesday evening on a new set of boundaries for a tax district to support a soccer stadium. The City-County Council already approved one set of boundaries last year. The new set moves the district east and excludes the original Eleven Park site. City officials will have to decide which of the two sets of tax district boundaries to take to the state for final approval.