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ISU Housing Project Stands At Crossroads With City’s Past

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    This group of historic buildings in downtown Terre Haute is set to be demolished to make way for a new student housing and retail complex.

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    Use of arches is a signature of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style.

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    The buildings were constructed in the late 1800's and are some of the oldest in the city.

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    A previous lease agreement between ISU and developer Thompson Thrift would have incorporated the facades of the buildings into new construction but the State Budget Committee deemed it too expensive.

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    Historic preservationist Cynthia Brubaker says the long columns, archways and details of the buildings were "pretty fancy" for commercial use buildings.

New development in downtown Terre Haute will come at the cost of historic architecture.

The initial plan for a new student housing and retail complex in downtown Terre Haute included a compromise between historic preservationists and those set on completing the project.

A structure slated for construction on Wabash Avenue between 5th and 6th streets would use existing facades as a part of the construction taking place in the heart of what was once a bustling commercial area.

But the State Budget Committee balked at several provisions in the lease agreement between Terre Haute Developer Thompson Thrift and Indiana State University.

In a new agreement, Indiana State will have the option to buy the property after 30 years, and preservation of the facades, which Thompson Thrift estimated to cost more than $2 million, was axed.

Cynthia Brubaker is familiar with the area. Now working in historic preservation, she studied the buildings on Wabash Avenue that will meet the wrecking ball while she was an instructor at the College of Architecture at Ball State University.

“Theyr’e what we call Richardsonian Romanesque,” Brubaker says.

Named after Architect H. H. Richardson, who was known as a master of the urban commercial form, Brubaker says the late 19th century buildings have a unique, intricate style.

They feature “round arches and some very long columns that stretch over two floors with some fancy capitals at the top of the columns and those arches that create – almost like an arcade going across the front,” She says. “So that’s pretty fancy stuff for store fronts.”

The development is taking place in City Councilman Todd Nation’s district. Nation says he’s concerned that the facades won’t be there to guide what comes next.

“Since we don’t have any guidelines in place, the builders and the university working together can build whatever they want,” Nation says.

“It’s my hope that what they come up with will be something the whole community can be proud of and will be a future landmark for downtown Terre Haute.”

Thompson Thrift was not available for comment for this story, but Indiana State University Vice President Diann McKee says the developer has assured her the new project will complement the architecture of neighboring downtown buildings.

Demolition could begin next month.


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  • Lucinda Berry

    Can you verify that the State Budget Committee actually “axed” retaining the facade? Did someone actually say “We will only approve this if you drop the idea of keeping the facades,” and if so, who was it? I have been researching documents involved in this process, and it seems to me the change the Budget Committee was looking for was to have a lease purchase option. Could it be that ISU and/or Thompson Thrift are simply trying to deflect blame for this decision onto the state?

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