THERE have been a number of major changes to the downtown area during the past five years, but the one that will finally emerge in the coming weeks will have a significant effect on how people and vehicles move about the area.
Sometime later this month, Jackson Street will become a thoroughfare from First to 11th streets for the first time in more than 41 years.
Actually, the street opening will encompass only a single block from Third to Fourth streets, which for a major portion of the past four decades was occupied by a portion of the former Commons mall.
The closing of Jackson Street between Third and Fourth in 1971 was part of a much bigger redevelopment project in the downtown. Up to that time, Jackson Street itself was a significant part of the city that had fallen upon hard times. Several sections of the downtown were officially listed as “blighted” and Jackson Street itself was home to several bars and taverns that had unsavory reputations.
In the years since the street closing, the area has evolved beyond that earlier image. While much of the commerce that once lined the street disappeared, the looks of the area were significantly improved. Much of the street is occupied by Cummins Inc. properties, most notably the corporate headquarters, a new parking garage and several new office complexes.
Significant beneficiaries from the reopening will be entities on Jackson between Third and Fourth — YES Cinema and the Indiana University Center for Art and Design. For the past two years, both facilities have been “locked into” a construction zone as workers assembled and put finishing touches on the Cummins office buildings to the east of them.
With the street soon to be opened, both should enjoy an improvement in visual recognition and increased traffic.
Both operations can play significant roles in the effort to improve the city’s arts district. Already, the IU Center has had a number of exhibits and programs that have drawn strong audiences despite the difficulties posed by the neighboring construction zone.
YES Cinema, operated by the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, has been filling a number of voids in the community in recent years. It has provided residents with low-cost movies and brought to the city a number of art films that would have previously required trips to Bloomington or Indianapolis. It has also taken on other roles, hosting live acts featuring comedians and entertainers, as well as providing meeting spaces for a number of community organizations and businesses.
Neighboring restaurants also should benefit from the reopening, especially from the traffic that will be coming directly down the street from the newly opened Cole apartments.
While the downtown has undergone some dramatic changes in the past four decades, the reopening of Jackson Street can be seen as representative of this transformation and an evolution from a “blighted” neighborhood into a showcase of positive downtown planning.