An Indianapolis suburb is hoping to boost its profile and attract new visitors with a cultural district promoting the arts and the area’s military history.
Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded the city of Lawrence and the nonprofit Arts for Lawrence $5.85 million to build the Fort Harrison Cultural Campus. Plans for the campus include new performance and visual-arts spaces, interactive play areas and an augmented-reality app showcasing the history of Fort Harrison.
Lawrence’s city limits encompass the U.S. Army’s former Fort Benjamin Harrison, which was established in 1906. After the base closed in 1995, the state acquired 1,700 acres to create Fort Harrison State Park.
Mayor Steve Collier said the park and its golf course already attract visitors who stay in the park’s inn and other nearby lodging. But he said the cultural campus will give visitors more to do while they’re in town, while also providing local families with another reason to visit the community on Indianapolis’ northeast side.
“It’s just an idea of making Lawrence a destination rather than just a pass-through,” Collier told the Indianapolis Business Journal . “We have a bit of an identity crisis.”
He said city officials are trying to attract a boutique hotel to the Fort Harrison area. While that hotel would not be part of the cultural campus, Collier said it would help give the city a boost.
The Lilly Endowment grant will fund capital improvements for the first five phases of the project, to be completed over the next four years. The city and Arts for Lawrence must find the additional funding for the sixth and seventh phases.
Arts for Lawrence’s executive director, Judy Byron, said the cultural campus is something that the organization “has been looking at doing for a long time, but we thought it would take 10, 20, 30 years to do this”
But she said the Lilly Endowment funding means the cultural district will become a reality relatively soon.
The grant will cover the creation of an app visitors will be able to download so they can use their smartphones as viewfinders to see what an existing building looked like when it was in military use decades ago as part of Fort Harrison.
“The fort has such a rich history . but if you’re just walking around by yourself, you don’t have that history,” said Jeff Corns, president of Schneider Geospatial, which will build the app.
The federal government kept about 10 percent of the fort’s land after the 1995 closure and still maintains a major accounting and finance center at the site. But much of the remaining acreage has been developed into private homes, offices and retail space, and many of the original fort structures were repurposed, creating a new downtown for Lawrence.