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Madam Walker Legacy Center development shelved after developer backs out

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Plans to build a multiuse space on the Madam Walker Legacy Center property has come to a halt after developers withdrew their petition.

The next plan of action isn’t clear.

The Madam Walker Legacy Center has faced financial struggles over the years, and the goal of selling part of the property to allow development was to provide more financial stability. However, community members said, while they support the Legacy Center, the development could erase Indiana Avenue’s history.

There’s deep history on Indiana Avenue. However, years of development have changed the face of the once-thriving Black community. However, one of its shining spots remains: The Madam Walker Legacy Center theater.

“We want to ensure that the community is not left behind when we are seeing development. Development is important we understand and recognize that,” said Jeff Williams with Reclaim Indiana Avenue.

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For several months, the Madam Walker Legacy Center and Buckingham Cos. had been in communication about a massive project at 719 Indiana Ave. The plan was to use existing space and transform it into apartments and a multiuse space.

Indianapolis-based Buckingham Cos. officially pulled out of the project last week.

“Despite the best intentions of everyone involved and not unlike so many other worthwhile endeavors during this time, the pursuit of a feasible project was undermined by the impact of a once in a hundred years’ pandemic that took away the reasonable opportunity to complete the development at this time. We appreciate the efforts and leadership of the Madam Walker Legacy Center and all the other stakeholders with an interest in this incredibly important site.”

Buckingham Cos.

“We would definitely consider this step a win,” said Mallory Ervin with Reclaim Indiana.

From the start there’s been some pushback, with community members even coming together to form Reclaim Indiana Avenue. Ervin said, “This development would just continue the erasure of Black history and presence on Indiana Avenue.”

Representatives said the issue isn’t development and they empathized with the Legacy Center, knowing its history of financial struggles. But making sure that development meets the needs of the local community is most important.

Reclaim Indiana Avenue said better options would include grocery stores and more affordable housing.

“We see this as an opportunity to create a national destination piece that honors Black history and Indiana history,” Williams said.

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