20 years after military exit, Fort Ben revitalization gains steam

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LAWRENCE, Ind. (WISH) —  This year marks 20 years since the military left Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence.  The city of Lawrence has been working to fill the void Fort Ben left behind ever since.

When the military moved out, it took people, businesses and jobs with it. Lawrence can still feel the economic impact, but now people in Lawrence say things are starting to turn around.

When Triton Brewing Company co-founder, David Waldman, was looking for a space to build his brewery, he found a mule barn built in 1924. The barn sat in what once was Fort Benjamin Harrison.

“I came out on a Sunday and toured the barn. It was very much a dirty warehouse kind of barn…As soon as we saw it, we pretty much fell in love with it. The high ceilings, the exposed beams,” said Waldman.

Waldman’s team renovated the old barn in 2011 and turned it into a brewery and tap room.

“It was a big project. Probably bigger than what we should have taken on, but it was really a project we didn’t feel like we could ever fail. Today, we have increased our capacity by 300 percent since the day we opened. We’re getting ready to go into the state of Kentucky and it’s been a really great home for us at Fort Ben and in Lawrence,” said Waldman.

With each bottle, Triton brings a little energy back to the old Fort Ben.

“We came out here and there wasn’t a lot going on. We’ve seen it blossom,” said Waldman, “There’s actually life that’s going on around us now…it’s very much like a little town inside of all the opportunities that the Indianapolis area provides us.”

Freddie Burrus is the executive director of the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority. Burrus and his team are working to turn the area into a cultural district with new condos, restaurants, businesses and green spaces.

“Try to spur the solid tax base for the city of Lawrence. Re-generate all the economic stability that exited when the closure occurred. The goal is to be better than Mass Ave., the goal is to have a different product than Broad Ripple, Irvington and those guys,” said Burrus.

Burrus said there are more than 220 new condos and apartments in the area, in addition to the YMCA, Ivy Tech Community College and local businesses like Triton Brewing and Jockamo Pizza.

“We just think the marriage of all those things is going to make a perfect live, work, play and grow environment,” said Burrus.

Burrus said he vividly remembers the void left when the military moved out twenty years ago.

“Suddenly the shopping changed, job situation changed…So what the reuse authority is trying to do is regenerate that tax base, and try to recoup some of those jobs,” said Burrus.

Burrus said there were once 1,300 civilian jobs at Fort Benjamin Harrison.  Slowly, but surely he said that number is climbing back.

“We don’t have a hard number, that we say if we don’t get this number we haven’t been as successful as we wanted. But we don’t have a limit. We’ll take as many as we can possibly get,” said Burrus.

Burrus said the Reuse Authority is not only focused on bringing in jobs, but jobs with competitive pay for skilled workers.

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