Epilogue, The Demolition of Carmel’s Historic Grain Elevator (the final inside story)

Photograph by Satch

Update January 8, 2013 – There is some revisionist history attempted by a person that is known to be associated with Mayor Brainard.  The claim is that there was essentially no remonstrance regarding the grain elevator’s demolition.  This is simply not true.  Even this past First Friday the subject was brought up and discussed at Wug Laku’s Gallery in downtown Indianapolis.  The arts and historic preservation community of greater Indianapolis took note that Carmel destroyed an incredible historic structure for no reason other than the Mayor has a plan for the area.

At the peak of the issue the Save the Carmel Grain Elevator Facebook community page reached 4,093 people for the week of April 11 – 17, 2012.  An online petition garnered the support of 201 people.  I heard from many people that were behind our effort but were afraid to speak out.  It is interesting to note that the STCGE page has 168 Likes and the Jim Brainard for Carmel Mayor page has 155 Likes.  It is my guess that the remonstrance was grossly underestimated.  But the remonstrance meant nothing.  As you will read below the politicians had already signed the death warrant for the historic Carmel grain elevator.

With regard to having credible remonstrance, Marsh Davis, President of Indiana Landmarks, was on the side of preserving the grain elevator.  On behalf of Indiana Landmarks Marsh offered the Mayor and the City of Carmel a feasibility grant.  Here is that email:

Dear Mayor,

Last week (Thursday) I sent a message to you offering to provide a modest grant to study the feasibility of retaining and adapting the Carmel Grain Elevator to some new purpose.  Since I had not heard back from you, I first wanted to confirm that you received it.  I am not entirely clear what the status of the elevator is, but I hope you will give consideration to this friendly offer.

I know that we have differing opinions on the historic and architectural merits of grain elevators, but since the issue has been raised within the community, Indiana Landmarks would welcome the opportunity to participate in a dialogue regarding demolition and alternatives.

Best wishes,

Marsh Davis
Indiana Landmarks
1201 Central Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Ph. 317-639-4534, 800-450-4534
Fax: 317-639-6734

Indiana Landmarks revitalizes communities, reconnects us to our heritage, and saves meaningful places.

This email went unanswered.  The Mayor never responded.  So, the question is, in my mind, was there truly no meaningful remonstrance, or was meaningful remonstrance ignored?  The answer seems to be obvious.

After the historic grain elevator had been demolished by the Mayor and the CRC, Marsh summarized the situation in this way that I believe is spot on:

Carmel, as a promoter of arts, is missing an opportunity to use the elevator as a very large art exhibit.  It could be interpreted for what it is and how grain elevators affected the course of modern architecture.  Not just architecture, but commerce, transportation, agriculture, building materials. It represents major progress and historic changes in all of these forces, and they are embedded in this structure.  Interpreting it as such would be innovative and authentic.  Assessing the feasibility of that is what Indiana Landmarks was interested in probing and why we offered to study it.

Original Post – It’s been about seven months since Mayor Brainard and the Carmel Redevelopment Commission (CRC) demolished Carmel’s historic grain elevator.  I’ve wanted to write the so-called “epilogue” of this issue, from my point of view, for the last couple of months but was not able to get my head around how I wanted to present it.  Today I’m still not sure about it.  I’ve decided to start writing and then follow myself.

I’m not going to rehash why Carmel’s historic grain elevator was significant but I will direct you to this blog post where you will find my essay regarding such.  This essay was presented to the Carmel City Council at their March 19, 2012 meeting.

As time has passed more information came to light after my post of March 23, 2012.  For me, this post wraps up the issue and ties up some loose ends.

The demolition of Carmel’s historic grain elevator was a lesson about how Carmel’s government works, or worked (time will tell).  The Mayor did what he wanted with no public input nor consideration for anyone else’s viewpoint. The Mayor’s original instructions to CRC Director Les Olds was to demolish the grain elevator for an amount of money that would not require public notification.  This was caught on a video of a CRC meeting.

The Mayor and the CRC have led Carmel’s citizens down the path of “redevelopment” to the point of Carmel being saddled with an insolvent CRC along with their debt (including the City Council bailout and fees) that supposedly totals in the neighborhood of $500,000,000.00.  Since then the Carmel City Council has reigned in the CRC’s ability to take on debt without City Council approval.

One of the glaring facts of this entire issue is that it was only days before the Mayor signed Carmel’s historic preservation ordinance that he had signed the resolution through the Board of Public Works to to destroy Carmel’s historic grain elevator.

The bottom line is that the Mayor wanted the grain elevator down before the Carmel Historic Preservation Commission could be organized and possibly get in his way for redeveloping the area.

The Mayor has a plan for this area that will not go through the Planning Commission nor will the public be allowed any input.  Carmel’s zoning laws allow this!  Consideration was never given for the grain elevator to be made a part of the redevelopment plan.

At the time I did not understand why the Carmel-Clay Historic Society (CCHS) never spoke up in support of preserving such an important structure.  I found out that the Carmel City Center Community Development Corporation (4CDC), the organization that works in concert with the CRC, had recently given the CCHS a check in the amount of something like $31,000.00.  Plus, they have no historic preservation professionals on staff.

The most significant advocate for the preservation of the historic Carmel grain elevator was Marsh Davis, President of Indiana Landmarks.  Marsh has known the Mayor for many many years.  A long time before all of this came down Marsh had been advocating the preservation of the grain elevator.  He gave the Mayor a book on the significance of grain elevators and requested him to preserve it.  All of this fell on deaf ears.  Marsh became very public in his support of efforts to save the grain elevator.  He sent direct correspondence to the Mayor and the City Council imploring them to examine the possibilities rather than demolish.  He made an offer on behalf of Indiana Landmarks to provide funds to the City of Carmel to do a feasibility study for preservation of the grain elevator.  Again, this offer fell on deaf ears.

Members of the Carmel-Clay Historic Society publicly downplayed any historical significance of the grain elevator and did publicly say the grain elevator had no historical significance.  This stance flew in the face of the position of Marsh Davis, President of Indiana Landmarks, the foremost authority on historical structures in the State of Indiana.

In a newspaper article the Mayor claimed one could drive up U.S. 31 and see grain elevators everywhere.  This is simply not true.  At this point I realized the Mayor was either ignorant as to the difference between a silo and a grain elevator or he was providing misinformation to degrade the public’s perception of the significance of the grain elevator.

About the press, they did a less than stellar job covering this issue.  The Indianapolis Star reporter took quotes from my blog but never did request to talk to me directly.  The Current in Carmel made the issue out to be more about politics than historic/art/architecture preservation.  I found this to be sadly amusing since Carmel is supposedly a sort of an arts mecca and art is what is supposedly going to drive Carmel’s development and economy.  Yet, the most significant piece of Carmel’s historic architecture that reflected an important era of inspiration for many artists was destroyed by who is supposedly the biggest advocate of the arts in Carmel, the Mayor.

Dan Grossman of NUVO was the only writer that took a hard look at all of this in a reasonable context.  It was interesting to me that the Mayor refused to talk to NUVO for Dan’s article but on the very day that the NUVO story hit the streets the Indianapolis Star reporter released a story attempting to rebut the NUVO article!  (Links to Dan’s articles – Fighting to save Carmel’s grain elevatorThoughts on a crumbling grain elevator)

I did address the City Council twice, once on March 23, 2012 to make a presentation as to the significance of the grain elevator and once on April 9, 2012 to comment that I was having to defend the Mayor and the CRC who had assured me that the grain elevator was structurally deficient and had to come down for safety’s sake.  When I did this, in my bones I knew that this was not the case but I didn’t have any proof, yet.  I did ask for the engineering studies that would confirm the CRC’s contention that the grain elevator was structurally deficient.

I was allowed to speak at a CRC meeting about preserving the grain elevator.  In a nutshell I was told that the grain elevator was in bad condition, even a strong wind could blow it over, that it was built with inferior construction products and had no feasible use and therefore it had to come down.  The CRC claimed they had exhausted all possibilities.  Being a civil engineer by education and experience at the Indiana Department of Highways (now INDOT) I knew that these contentions were very possibly spurious but I had no choice but to trust what I was being told in this public meeting.  As I previously mentioned I spoke at a City Council meeting where I defended the CRC’s position but asked the City Council and the Mayor to accept Marsh Davis’ offer so we could get some solid information on the condition of the grain elevator.  Realize that for many years it was the City of Carmel that owned the grain elevator and the surrounding property allowing it to get into the condition that it was in.

I found it laughable that the CRC said they didn’t have any money to spend on the grain elevator.  Earlier in the meeting I heard about the huge fee that was being paid to a consultant to study Merchants Square for redevelopment, which Carmel and the CRC had no claim upon.  And the Mayor wanted to contract for plans by a consultant to make the open area at Sophia Square “more European.”  There was plenty of money being spent on what the Mayor wanted, but that was it.

On April 11, 2012, I received from the Mayor via Nancy Heck an engineering study on the structural integrity of the grain elevator.  This was received after the contract to demolish the grain elevator had been signed and the demolition was about to commence.  The Executive Summary of the “Carmel Grain Elevator – Structural Assessment” reads as follows:

“We have completed our condition assessment of the Carmel Grain Elevator.  This work has focused on determining the long term structural viability of the concrete silo portion of the facility.  Based upon the observations performed to date, it appears that the concrete silos are structurally in good condition.  Some repairs to the concrete structure will be required to insure the long term durability of the structure.  Some of the steel elements are in need of significant repairs or removal.  Repairs to the roofs and windows will be required to restore the facility to a water tight condition.  At this time it appears feasible to keep the existing concrete structure at this facility.”

I now had proof that I had not been told the truth by the CRC.  Compared to the money being spent by the CRC and 4CDC on other projects and subsidizing various entities, paying to fix up the grain elevator would have been like a drop of water in Lake Michigan.

Here’s something that might surprise you.  I knew from the very first week when I started the effort to save the grain elevator that I had no chance.  But, I went ahead because I knew bringing attention to this issue is what needed to happen in the community.  And, I knew that the grain elevator should be preserved as a part of Carmel’s history, so I thought why not give it a shot, albeit an impossible task.

The first step that I took was to speak with three City Councilors.  The first Councilor that I formally met with made me aware of the realities of attempting to do something like this in Carmel.  It really did set me back on my heals a bit.

Then, I was told that a deal had been made by a particular City Councilman with the Mayor to demolish the grain elevator if he would sign the new historic preservation code, which the Mayor was no fan of.  The Mayor signed the code so this Councilor would not be able to speak against the demolition, and the table was set.  As I mentioned earlier, the grain elevator would be demolished before the historic commission was organized and had begun work.

This Councilor and the other two told me that there was nothing the City Council could do because of the zoning of the property.  I made the point that this structure was historically significant and Carmel’s largest remaining historic structure, but it was obvious that the City Council was not going to step in to put a stop to the demolition of the grain elevator.  Like I said, the very first week I knew I did not have a chance.

The irony and hypocrisy was not lost on me that as the historic Carmel grain elevator was being demolished the Carmel Historic Preservation Commission (CHPC) was being established.  I thought that maybe the CHPC would, in the interim during organization, make a statement in favor of preserving the grain elevator, but they never issued such.

The destruction of Carmel’s grain elevator was a huge wasted opportunity.  It was a chance for Carmel to be progressive and embrace its history rather than build shiny new buildings that are designed to look old.  For a supposed arts community to turn its back on such a significant structure showed the greater Indianapolis arts and architecture community that Carmel really isn’t that serious about being an arts center, or maybe that Carmel doesn’t really understand what being an arts community is really all about.  As I mentioned in another blog post, “It would have been wonderful for the grain elevator to remain as monumental piece of sculpture so that others would have had the opportunity to be inspired and interpret it in the same way many of the world’s greatest architects and artists have interpreted America’s grain elevators.”

The grain elevator was a nice landmark along the Monon Trail that could have been used by the community in a myriad of ways.  Public opinion, by all indications, was in favor of preserving the grain elevator, which is saying something considering how the press characterized the issue.  Instead, Carmel’s last significant historic structure is now lost forever.

Thanks to everyone that stood with me and supported saving the grain elevator.  Even though we lost a significant part of our history to the politicians I really do believe that we made a serious impact.

Go here to access all of my blog posts about the historic Carmel grain elevator.

Go to the pull down menus at the top of the page to find photographs of the historic Carmel grain elevator.  There are photographs in the exhibition, Truth From Perceptions, Holga and Polaroid under “Work” and “iPhone.”

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