City of Lawrence and Keystone Group officials officially broke ground Oct. 24 on The Benjamin, a Keystone Group mixed-use development that will offer luxury apartments and commercial space, set for completion in fall of 2025.
On the sunny October morning, more than 60 people gathered at the site of the planned development, now a grassy space off 56th Street, to celebrate the start of the project. It’s one of the last sites on the former Fort Benjamin Harrison property to be developed following the base’s closure in the 1990s.
Fort Harrison Reuse Authority Executive Director Heather Millikan said she grew up in the area, and she’s happy the former base has been repurposed so successfully.
“What I’m seeing, it just brings me so much joy because you know, when the Army left, it was kind of scary times for all of us in Lawrence, not knowing what was going to happen,” she said.
FHRA Board President Jeff Vest said the estimated $70 million Keystone Group development has been in the works for more than six years. It involved a lot of conversations and was delayed in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vest said he’s happy the project is moving forward and said it should benefit all of Lawrence.
“It’s the largest private development — private-public development — in the history of Lawrence,” he said. “This will be a little cliche here, but it should be the keystone to drive people to The Fort — the whole work, live, play concept.”
Vest said The Benjamin will be similar to Keystone’s Sophia Square in Carmel, with higher-end retail and commercial opportunities.
According to a Keystone Group announcement, The Benjamin will offer 220 residential units, a pool and luxury amenity spaces, and about 24,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on the ground floor.
In his remarks during the ceremony, Keystone Group President and CEO Ersal Ozdemir said his company considers how functional a local government is when deciding where to build. He said he was initially skeptical about building in Lawrence when the conversation started with city officials, but Mayor Steve Collier told him to just come take a look.
“I didn’t realize what had happened (in the) last 10 years — the amount of the development and redevelopment, the residential apartments, the village plaza, and obviously, there’s a great asset here that really a lot of people don’t appreciate: the state park,” Ozdemir said. “The city leadership has done an amazing job the last 10 years. I got excited to be part of this big vision to help to grow the area to a better place.”
Collier told the audience that he was determined to get Keystone Group to build on the Fort Ben campus.
“Being a mayor of a city like Lawrence, you’ve got to be a pretty good salesman,” he said. “So Ersal, I’ve got to tell you, I did my toughest sales job on you to get you out here.”
Collier noted that the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority is nationally recognized for its success in making sure the former Fort Benjamin Harrison base remained a vibrant part of Lawrence. He mentioned other recent and ongoing projects, such as the recently completed Indianapolis Public Library Fort Ben Branch; the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township’s administrative building, which recently celebrated its groundbreaking about a block away from The Benjamin site; and the planned Indiana Golf headquarters at the Fort Ben Golf Resort.
What’s left to develop at Fort Ben?
Nearly all the former Fort Benjamin Harrison buildings and lots have been repurposed, but there are a handful of sites that remain open for development.
Fort Harrison Reuse Authority Executive Director Heather Millikan said discussions are under way for one site, but she can’t talk about that in any detail.
“Until it’s all finalized, we really aren’t saying a whole lot,” she said. “But we’re really excited about the prospects of what could be happening soon.”
Millikan said in addition to the unnamed project, there are a couple of acres just past the Jockamo Pizza building that the authority would like to see developed, and a few others.
“I found a couple of smaller, just-under-an-acre parcels that we just have to decide what’s going to be best for those — more than likely a smaller office building or something, and maybe a couple more townhomes,” she said.”So literally, that’s about it.”
For more about the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority and the history of Fort Benjamin Harrison Army Base, visit fhra.org.