Lawrence Village at the Fort Incorporates "Green City" Initiatives

When Fort Benjamin Harrison Army Base was put on the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list in 1991, the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority, along with the City of Lawrence, developed a plan to address economic concerns following the exodus of hundreds of army and civilian personnel. At the time of closure, approximately 800 acres of property deeded from the federal government to the Reuse Authority was appraised at a negative value of $9 million due to dilapidated buildings and contaminated soils. The Reuse Authority’s investment to demolish buildings and remediate property began the process of reusing the historic army base. The Authority’s most recent investment of $10 million dollars to build infrastructure is critical to the completion of base redevelopment. The project sets the stage for the development of Lawrence Village at the Fort, a master planned, sustainable, mixed use community which will include residential, commercial and retail offerings. Lawrence Village at the Fort is a destination – a walkable community for residents and visitors to eat, shop, live and work. The infrastructure construction was completed in Summer 2010.

How was this project innovative?
Over fifty percent of the concrete material from the former PX and Commissary, which was demolished in 2007, has been reused for backfill for pipe excavation in the infrastructure construction project at Fort Benjamin Harrison. In addition, because much of the Village area drains through the state park and into Fall Creek, the project drainage plan incorporates certain controls which are being implemented as green infrastructure such as rain gardens and bio-swales.

For example, the massive Ravine Park was designed as a passive park for the community to reconnect with nature through the use of an elevated boardwalk over a restored stream that will also serve as a storm water detention basin. The Ravine was originally part of a creek that had been concreted-in by the army and the concrete was removed and the creek re-established as part of the project. The pipes that originally ran above grade in the ravine were removed.

Structural soil was also used throughout the project streetscape to improve growing conditions for the street trees of which none were lost during last summers' uncommonly dry conditions. Structural soil can be used in most streetscape conditions to support sidewalks while increasing the area for tree roots beyond the typical tree pits. The fact that all of the new trees survived severe drought speaks well for the use of this type of soil bed.

How can this innovation be replicated to other projects?
Each public improvement project by the Reuse Authority will incorporate “green city” initiatives to reuse material, install energy efficient lighting, and promote a safe and comfortable environment. A Planned Unit Development (PUD) outlines these guidelines and more for all developers and property owners who intend to create or upgrade property at the Fort.
Did this project involve partnership with other groups and organizations?
Lawrence Village at the Fort is a partnership between the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority and the City of Lawrence. More importantly, it is a project in partnership with the citizens of Lawrence who enjoy its offerings of a comfortable, sustainable and interesting environment conducive for living, working and playing. Further, the FHRA partnered with the Herron School of Art for two outdoor art sculptures through their graduate studies program. The FHRA believes that this partnership gives back to both the arts and local communities and showcases new artists.

What was your impact?
Fort Benjamin Harrison Army Base was established in 1903 and over the years, key infrastructure became dilapidated and old steam lines were abandoned. Old storm lines were found to be paper thin and loose fitting and are therefore producing ground water infiltration into sanitary sewers. The Reuse Authority replaced old sanitary infrastructure with new and is, as a result, reducing the known infiltration problem that has been a problem for years in the Fort.

Fort Benjamin Harrison has long been a place to walk and jog because of its proximity to Fort Harrison State Park and the Benjamin Harrison YMCA. Old asphalt and concrete roads with no curb cuts and poor drainage have been replaced by porous pavement, concrete curbs, and rain gardens. This project has produced roads lined with sidewalks on each side and bike lanes giving the community and visitors a safer place to walk, run and bike. The vehicular lane widths were reduced from 12' to 10' or 11' along with the addition of bike lanes, landscape bump outs, rain gardens, street trees and parallel parking in an effort to make the streets more pedestrian oriented.

The economic impact of Lawrence Village at the Fort is significant for the community and for the City of Lawrence. While it is difficult to pinpoint an exact number of new jobs and increased tax revenues, we do know that new businesses, retail and residential offerings will bring thousands of dollars into the Lawrence economy. The Master Plan calls for 800 – 1000 additional residential development units such as townhomes, condo flats and apartments; additional office developments for organizations ranging in size of 5 – 15 employees; approximately 100,000 square feet of retail; and other flex space where retail or commercial uses can “backfill” should the demand increase. Currently, there are approximately 187 businesses located at Fort Benjamin Harrison with over 6,500 employees.

Because of this infrastructure investment, two major housing projects are currently working through the regulatory process.  The development companies involved in these projects, which total almost 300 units of high quality housing, have indicated that they were attracted to the Village concept because of the sustainable infrastructure.  In a time when the economy has brought new projects to almost a complete standstill, the Lawrence Village at the Fort project is seeing significant activity.

How have you measured the success of the project?
We measure the success of the project in economic terms. The $10 million investment by the Reuse Authority has already helped property owners see an increase in their original property investment by enhancing property values. For example, one building within the Village boundaries appraised in 2000 for $600,000 now appraises for $1.2 million as a result of key infrastructure improvements that enhance property values.

The Fort’s development to date is widely recognized by the military and U.S. cities as a success story for the reuse and redevelopment of a vacated military installation. In fact, the United States Office of the Secretary of Defense issued an award to the Reuse Authority for Exemplary Work in Base Redevelopment. In addition, the Indiana Chapter of the American Planning Association gave the Authority two Hoosier Planning Awards – Honorable Mention for Outstanding Project and Outstanding Plan.

How has this project impacted environmental, social and economic conditions?
Old trees with dead limbs that presented public safety hazards were cut down making way for nearly 400 new flowering and canopy trees throughout the entire Village. The addition of three parks filled with naturalized plantings to the area, shrubs and perennials add to the natural environment that exists through the State Park. With the construction nearing completion, the community is already showing its support. Walkers and joggers populate the area, and interest has increased among the development community for valuable real estate offerings. The community will benefit from new residential, retail and restaurant offerings that present close-by alternatives to areas outside of Lawrence.

How have the leaders of this project demonstrated vision, foresight and persistence?
The creation and adoption of a Master Reuse Implementation Strategy in 1999 set the stage for all development that has been completed to date at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Since the base closure in 1995, the City of Lawrence has had three different mayors and the Reuse Authority has had approximately seven different executive directors who are governed by a politically-appointed board of directors. As political parties change, so do visions, and it is remarkable that the Reuse Authority has been able to enforce positive change in an effort to reuse Fort Benjamin Harrison Army Base. While the process has been slow, it has been consistent and productive. This is a testament to the strength of the Master Reuse Plan and the leaders who over the years have been charged with implementing it.

What was the largest challenge in this project or if this project was repeated what would you change?
Outside of what has been largely unknown in the ground due to nonexistent utility infrastructure plans left over by the Army, the $10 million infrastructure improvement project has been free from major challenge. The Reuse Authority fully intends to continue its communications strategy to Village stakeholders and to Lawrence leaders and the community in an effort to educate, inform and create excitement for future public improvement projects.

What steps, if any, were taken to educate the people involved in this project?
During several pre-construction public input sessions, citizens stated their desire for a comfortable “village-feel” area to be used for a gathering place. Preservation of the military and Fort’s history was also very important. Three new parks within the Village are an answer to the requests of the community, giving residents conveniently-located areas to recreate with family and friends. Over the course of the construction, communication methods such as public speaking engagements, internet, Facebook, the media, and community events have been used to share key information about upcoming closures and development opportunities. The Reuse Authority also meets with the City of Lawrence mayor every two weeks to update him on progress and share development opportunities.

How did this project incorporate educating Indianapolis community members?
The Reuse Authority is fortunate to have a positive relationship with the City of Lawrence through efforts to educate all departments on reuse plans. In 2005, a Planned Unit Development (PUD) was adopted by the City of Lawrence and City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development that assures all future development will comply with design standards, zoning ordinances, etc. Prior to the beginning of this most recent infrastructure improvement project, the Reuse Authority met with the City of Indianapolis Departments of Public Works, Economic Development, Metropolitan Development, Office of Sustainability and the Indianapolis Bond Bank to share information and answer questions.