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ISU Housing Project Stands At Crossroads With City's Past

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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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