The attraction? Interstate traffic.
Indianapolis tourism has always been hampered by the lack of an ocean, lake, shoreline, or mountains—something majestic for the advertisements, something obvious for visitors to gravitate to. Our something-majestic is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Concrete and pavement and fumes.
Not quite the same, right? Not so fast, says Tom Battista, one of downtown’s visionaries. He finds traffic fascinating, so much so that he’s creating a park overlooking downtown’s interstates. It’s called The Idle, and after five years of work on the plan, the wheels are finally turning. The Federal Highway Administration has signed off, Battista says, and yesterday, the project launched a $41,000 crowdfunding campaign with a matching grant.
Battista says he sold the FHA on The Idle by pointing out that interstates tore apart neighborhoods decades ago. I-65 downtown isolated Fountain Square and other areas; urban-affairs expert Aaron Renn has even argued for tearing down I-65 to stitch downtown Indy back together. “The pitch to [the government] was about reuniting neighborhoods,” Battista says. “It might be good PR.”
The Idle would occupy an elevated grassy bank between northbound and southbound lanes of I-65 near the I-70 split, close to Fletcher Place, where Battista owns commercial real estate. The renderings look cool, with old seats from Bush Stadium and a sun shade. A path will lead from the Cultural Trail to the park, where people will be able to watch traffic moving in all directions and merging from the two highways, sometimes harrowingly so. Battista thinks the place could be one of neighborhood connection. “It seems like if we built a viewing stand, people would come sit and talk to each other and daydream about where drivers are going. I constantly think about that, every rush hour, why people don’t live closer to where they work,” he says. He has noticed conversations striking up on High Line benches in New York City, particularly where 10th Avenue passes under the urban trail, reinforcing what seems like a far-fetched idea.
If Battista has a romantic relationship with the road, perhaps it’s because he has spent decades touring with Jimmy Buffett and other famous musicians as a stage manager. One of his first jobs was with David Bowie, before he even knew who Bowie was. But Battista has always made Indy his home and invested here. For decades, he has purchased and refurbished derelict buildings and injected life into urban neighborhoods. He owns the Bluebeard building and a couple of adjacent ones in Fletcher Place. He bought properties on Mass Ave back when it was skid row.
Along the way, Battista has supported the community through small, grassroots projects, not by sponsoring large events with national branding. The Idle falls into that category. If all goes well, it will be up and running by late 2017. Honk if you think he’s on to something.