January 25, 2021

Community Health Network at Broad Ripple Park met with opposition

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A proposal for a private-public partnership to build a health clinic in a new family center at Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis is meeting with opposition. Here’s why.

Wochit

A hybrid family center and private health clinic planned for Broad Ripple Park continues to divide the neighborhood, with those opposed contending the deal gives away precious parkland at taxpayer expense. 

The 40,000-foot building, which will be paid for by Community Health Network, will replace the park’s current family center and include a 15,000-foot private primary care clinic. 

As part of the deal, the Indy Parks and Recreation Department would pay developer BR Health Holdings monthly rent beginning at $79,900, according to a draft of the lease. The city plans to eventually buy the building. 

“The city is getting fleeced,” said David Dearing, a member of the Broad Ripple Alliance group opposing the project and an attorney who a filed a lawsuit on residents’ behalf that was dismissed in September.“They are agreeing to pay $80,000 a month. They always say, ‘We have no money, we have no money,’ but they’re going to come up with $80,000 a month to lease space in this building, which is built on the public’s land.”

But proponents say the project revives the older center, a roughly 11,000-square-foot building that was previously a public library until 2003, and engages the public with the banks of the White River. The new 39,000-square-foot center will feature a gym,volleyball courts, a running track, multi-purpose rooms, a kitchenette and office space.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees, and the city doesn’t have a lot to allocate toward parks” said Joshua John, treasurer of the Broad Ripple Village Association, one of the groups in support of the project. “So the best and most efficient way to accomplish redeveloping the park community center was a private-public partnership.”

The park’s current family center has offered dance and fitness classes, holiday-themed programs and summer camps since moving into the old library space in 2003, offering at least three classes simultaneously during peak class times, according to the parks department. The new center will allow park staff to offer four to five programs in the gym and up to four classes in other spaces. 

Master Plan

The new center is part of the Broad Ripple master park plan developed in 2018 with extensive community input. The plan envisions a “signature park” that defines the neighborhood with a community center that features “greater engagement with the river” and a public-private partner. 

The plan includes a promenade along the White River with future connection to the Broad Ripple Riverside walk and Broad Ripple Avenue. It also includes an outdoor café, a terraced river edge and river bank improvements to prevent erosion. 

The parks department, which would still own the land, plans to purchase the building after at least 30 years — a setup that the department says will provide long-term revenue from Community Health Network, which will continue to pay to lease space in the building.

But opposing residents are calling for a reconsideration of the plan. A lawsuit that residents filed in March alleged that the Metropolitan Development Commission’s approval of a zoning variance was an abuse of discretion. A Marion County superior court judge dismissed the case.

Still, residents in the alliance argue that the park land should be kept for recreational uses – not given to a private entity.

“Broad Ripple Park has a long and storied history and we would like for our park to remain the way it is,” said Kathy Rosenberg, who has lived two blocks from the park for 38 years. “Yeah, you can do some renovation, you can clean up the park, whatever … but to put a private business in the park, what’s next? They’re going to put a bar in there? How about a strip joint?”

The family center is perfectly fine and underutilized as it is, opponents argue. They also note the nearby vacant commercial spaces and proximity of existing healthcare options — IU Urgent Care and Ascension Medical Group are about a mile away down the road and Community Health Network has an existing family medicine office near there as well.

“There’s so much land and office and restaurants that are vacant that if Community Health Network needs a new clinic, they should move on to non-park property,” said Bill Malcolm, a member of the alliance.

They point to the latest Trust for Public Land survey that ranks Indianapolis below other major U.S. cities for park access, noting that just 4% of the city’s land is used for parks and recreation.

Even if the clinic did move on to park land, opponents argue, there are other parts of the city with greater healthcare needs.

“There are parks in this city, areas where the people do not have access to good medical care,” Rosenberg said. “And if they want to be fair, if they want to be socially equitable, why do it in Broad Ripple Park when we already have, what, four hospital-affiliated doctors offices within a five-block area?”

Leveraging resources

Indy Parks, meanwhile, says the partnership will enhance existing programs in the outdated community center.

The cost of building a state-of-the-art family center exceeds the department’s annual capital budget, the department said, and the partnership fast-tracks the development of a “key recommendation” from the master plan.

“The agreement leverages city resources and maximizes community services,” the department said. “Partnering with a health service provider fits Indy Parks’ mission and leveraging partnerships to better serve park visitors while enhancing park space also contributes to our mission and goals.”

Community Health Network referred questions about details of the project to Indy Parks, but said in a statement that it is honored to partner with the department as a tenant.

“We look forward to expanding our primary care services in the Broad Ripple area, and delivering accessible high-quality care that values the needs of each individual patient,” Amanda Furr, Community Health Network physician executive for integrated primary care, said in the statement. “This unique project also affords us the opportunity to create innovative health and wellness programming to augment Indy Park’s current offerings.”

Project supporters who have participated in the master plan process argue that it will help a financially strapped parks department.

“The city’s budget is always stressed,” said Michael McKillip, executive director of Midtown Indianapolis, the community development corporation that engages with community projects in the area. “There are 210 parks and probably barely enough money to fund 30 of those parks, and so the master plan sort of called for a public-private partnership that would enable a new family center and other investments in a master plan for the park.”

The deal is not taking up additional green space, proponents note, but restructuring a better center in the existing building and parking lot footprint. There was also plenty of opportunity for public comment in the master planning process, supporters note.

While these changes can be difficult McKillip said, the project is absolutely worth it.

“Broad Ripple has always been a place that attracted a lot of visitors,” he said. “and I think this investment is the (type) of investment that’s needed to sort of become sustainable as a regional park.”

The city is finalizing a project agreement through its Department of Metropolitan Development with BR Health Holdings for the construction of the building. 

Call IndyStar reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey at 317-444-6175 or email her at apakharvey@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmeliaPakHarvey.

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