The City of Lawrence has made significant strides in the past decade to boost the local economy, and the effort seems to be paying off with new development coming into the city.
City of Lawrence Director of Economic Development Dan Zuerner said there wasn’t much going on in Lawrence for a long time, but for the past seven or eight years, there’s been “dramatic improvement.”
“When you look at particularly the Fort, there’s not a single parcel of real estate available,” he said. “The Fort now is basically fully redeveloped. It’s the most successful Army-base redevelopment story in the history of the United States.”
Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence closed in the mid-1990s, and the land and buildings were turned over to state and local governments. About 1,700 acres became Fort Harrison State Park, and the rest was developed for the community through the City of Lawrence and the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority.
Zuerner said the city doesn’t offer tax abatements as incentives for businesses to move to Lawrence. It instead offers quality-of-life incentives.
“The companies just want to be here because (of) where we’re located and how we’re cleaning the town and moving crime out,” he said. “I think that’s where the real difference is. It’s our strategic location and, quite frankly, downtown Indianapolis has helped us out since COVID because it’s become less desirable with the issues they’re having downtown and people wanting to move out to us. We’re not the only ones experiencing that. So is Fishers and Westfield and Johnson County.”
Zuerner said there is more crime in downtown Indianapolis now than only a few years ago, prompting businesses and people to consider moving. He said Lawrence officials have done a good job making the community an attractive option for those businesses and people.
“We have more parks and green space than any other city in Indiana,” he said. “And I think people really love the fact that we have the trails and the golf courses and the pickle ball courts, and we’ve made huge investments in those facilities — the ice skating rink in the middle of the Fort in the winter time, the special programs, we have the gorgeous farmers market on Thursday nights and Winterfest and all the different things that we are doing at the Fourth of July Festival that make people really feel a part of the community.”
He said the city has had a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency since 2019 to clean up “brownfields,” which are contaminated sites. He said that helped Lawrence repurpose land and make it available to businesses such as Meyers Plastics and RaceTrac gas station.
Zuerner noted that Fortune Magazine recently named Lawrence as one of the best cities in the United States to raise a family, which he said shows the city’s efforts have been working.
Some of those efforts enhance residents’ leisure time, such as development of the Fort Ben Cultural Campus. Others are more practical, such as improvements to the city’s water utility. Zuerner said the new Purple Line rapid transit service under construction by the City of Indianapolis’ IndyGo is another amenity that should help continue growth for Lawrence, along with Lawrence’s plans to offer public electric vehicle charging stations and its continued investment in public safety.
The city also is working with the state to make improvements to the Pendleton Pike corridor, including landscaped medians, and plans a new roundabout at Carroll Road and 86th Street to improve traffic flow. Franklin Road will be redone soon, Zuerner said, a new boulevard will be built in the trades district and a sound barrier wall will be installed along the railroad track between Franklin Road and I-465.
A new project expected to break ground this fall is a five-story mixed-use development at the corner of 56th Street between Lawrence Village Parkway and Melner Drive. The Keystone Group project will offer 248 apartments, 25,000 square feet of commercial space and a parking garage. Zuerner said the $70 million development should be completed by the first half of 2025.
Zuerner said the city hasn’t created a long-term economic development plan at this point, primarily because it’s in the middle of an election cycle. How development continues is up to Lawrence’s elected officials following the November election.
No matter what, though, Zuerner said Lawrence is well positioned.
“Lawrence has a really bright opportunity and a bright future, sitting as the gateway to Indianapolis from the east and particularly with all the things that are happening in Hancock County around McCordsville,” he said. “I think Lawrence has a real opportunity to continue to improve.”
What’s been built?
Some of the business development that’s come to Lawrence in the past decade include:
- Freije Engineered Solutions, which moved to the Lawrence Trades District from Fishers when it needed to expand its headquarters. Its new building at 7600 Pendleton Pike, which opened in June 2022, includes corporate and warehouse space, plus a training center.
- Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC, at 4422 Bragdon St., a defense contractor that specializes in technology such as data analytics, digital engineering, information technology and artificial intelligence.
- Meyer Plastics, which opened in 2019 at 5968 Sunnyside Rd. The company manufactures a variety of plastic products and adhesives.
- Harris & Ford at 9307 E 56th St., a chemical distributor with customers in food, personal care, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, water\wastewater management and industrial sectors.