Alumni Voices: Abigail Lane
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TRAJECTORY?
My career trajectory can be traced back to traveling to various cities as a kid and marveling at the energy of a well-designed city center and the movement of people through the city. Chicago and Washington D.C. stand out as the cities which really captivated me. At the time, the career that I thought would position me well to embrace my love of cities was architecture. I focused on both math and art classes through high school to get into Ball State's Architecture program. Once there, after taking Scott Truex's Plan 100 class, I realized much of what I loved about cities, how they worked, and how I could fit in was found in urban planning, and then I was hooked.
I knew I wanted to come back to Indianapolis and use what I had learned in planning school for this city and during my internship credit, I was connected to a community development corporation on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, Englewood CDC. It was a short stint but I was able get a lot of great real-life experience with development and community planning and connected with the deep investment the staff there had in their neighborhood and community.
After graduating with an undergrad degree from CAP's BUPD program I wasn't quite ready to leave Muncie yet and venture out into the working world, so enrolled in the MURP program. Three great things that came out of the MURP program: a) I got to take a Community Development class with Chris Palladino and learned the basics of public and private development, b) I was placed at the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority as a grad assistantship and got more real-world experience with community development projects and c) I met my now husband, who started the MURP program as well in 2016.
Towards the end of the master's program as I was thinking about what to do upon leaving BSU and Muncie, a job opening came up with Englewood CDC and I immediately applied - this fit all the criteria I was looking for and with both the undergrad and grad programs at BSU. I felt very prepared. I started with Englewood CDC upon graduation in May 2017 and have been there ever since!
WHAT DOES YOUR CURRENT JOB ENTAIL?
Like most planners, my job entails a plethora of responsibilities but in general I get to work closely with other community partners and stakeholders to encourage and help cultivate community oriented and directed projects and see them to fruition. My title is Director of Community and Development at Englewood CDC and this is basically leading the development work we do in our community (generally the Near Eastside of Indianapolis) which ranges from affordable housing development (apartments, single-family, etc.), commercial development specifically for small businesses, job creation strategies for low-income individuals, educational strategies in our community, transportation strategies and more. Most of this entails working with other community partners and stakeholders and consulting community plans to inform our efforts, developing plans for a specific development idea, determining potential funding mechanisms and applying for grants, donations, fundraising, etc., and working with the design teams to come up with an idea and service provider partners depending on who the end user is for the development. For physical developments, this would then include overseeing the construction efforts of a housing development or rehab of a commercial building, and working with the end users, whether its housing tenants or a business, etc.
Other aspects of my job include grant management and compliance, being a part of developing community plans along with residents, giving input to City and State investment efforts, interacting with other community organizations by hosting volunteer work days and giving tours, interacting with Ball State CAP:Indy students on a regular basis, and corresponding with community members, partners, stakeholders, funders, designers, and more.
Due to the fairly small physical footprint of the community development corporation I work for, I get to touch all aspects of community development/real estate projects and really see how what we do impacts residents and community members on a regular basis (for better or for worse). I get to use my degree to invest in a place and people I care about and that is a part of my job I am most thankful for.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT A FAVORITE PROJECT AND WHY IT MAKES YOU PROUD.
I have been involved in a lot of really exciting and innovative projects in the 5 years since I've been with Englewood CDC but the most momentous and the one of which I am most proud has to be the redevelopment of a 120,000 square foot abandoned industrial building just blocks from Englewood CDC's offices. The PR Mallory building was built in 1921 and occupied by the PR Mallory Company in 1929 for about 50 years. This was the largest employer in the Englewood neighborhood at a time when industry was thriving and Englewood was a suburb of Indianapolis. When the company moved out in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the neighborhood was left with a 10-acre campus that was abandoned, had a number of environmental concerns, and hundreds of jobs that had left the neighborhood. The site remained vacant for 40+ years, and its redevelopment was an important part in many community plans over the years.
The opportunity presented itself to really go after the redevelopment of the campus and the two significant remaining buildings on the site in 2016 when Purdue Polytechnic High School was developed and wanted to land at the PR Mallory building. As I was just getting started in community development, I was put on this project to learn and help out where I could. In 2017 we put in our first major funding application for New Markets Tax Credits to supply a good chunk of the funding for this redevelopment. Simultaneously, we worked with Schmidt Associates to develop plans for the building and find an experienced general contractor for the project along with another tenant to take up the remaining space in the building.
Over the next two and a half years we met at least weekly at the John Boner Neighborhood Centers (co-developer and co-owner of the project) to hash out the various details of the project, bring together the other funding sources, figure out how the long-term operations were going to work, etc. For me, this was my introduction into the field and really was like drinking from a fire hose. I was able to help in organizing the various pieces of information that were needed, writing grant applications, communicating with the 60+ folks who were regularly engaged with the project, and communicating to the public what we were proposing. By the time the project was ready to close, we had already been under construction for six months and the overall cost was $38 million for the full redevelopment.
In July 2020, the building was completed and ready for occupancy by Purdue Polytechnic High School and Paramount Englewood Junior High School, both free charter schools dedicated to STEM education and serve both primarily minority students and primarily low-income families. About 800 students now attend these schools on a daily basis. The other building on the campus that was redeveloped, the Bunker Building is 75,000 square feet, of which a controlled environment farm currently operates out of as well as the robotics program for Purdue Polytechnic.
This project makes me proud when I think back to all the long hours that were put into redeveloping this building—of which neither Englewood CDC nor the John Boner Neighborhood Centers received any sort of developer fee—so we could bring better education offerings to the neighborhood and because the neighborhood, through community planning processes, had told us they wanted to see redeveloped. I am also proud of how many entities—from the federal and state governmental agencies, the city, our local landbank, funders, community members and tenants—all worked together to get to the finish line (and there were some moments we thought the project would die!). I swell with pride in our work every time I walk through those doors.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STUDENTS WHO WANT A CAREER SIMILAR TO YOURS?
Connect with those around you - relationships are the most important aspect of community development. Ask questions and be inquisitive. Ask "why is X happening in my community?" "Who is behind it and why are these projects getting done?" "What are the gaps in my community and what are people asking for?" "What gifts do people in my community have and how can they be used for the community?" "What advocacy work needs done to inform community members and those making decisions in my city or state?"
These questions are ones we must continually ask as we go through the development process. Another important aspect is folding in as many community members' input as possible: Ball State Urban Planning did a good job of hammering this home, but it is often then our responsibility in the field to remind other professionals and even residents themselves that we want and need their input to make sustainable plans and developments for a community.
It's been my experience that living in the community you serve and advocate for is incredibly important to really learn how what you're doing makes an impact on the community. Being able to say "I live here too" goes a long way with residents you are working with.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BALL STATE OR CAP MEMORY TO SHARE?
Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better college experience and a lot of that had to do with CAP. I came in with a lot of trepidation about the amount of work and late nights I had heard so much about, but having a supportive community of friends who were going through the same thing made it manageable and a lot of fun. The field trip weeks were some of my favorite memories and exploring new cities with friends was great (we got to go to Chicago, Baltimore, Nashville, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids Mich., Seattle, and Pittsburgh). Late night parties/work sessions in studio got a little wild after most of us were hyped up on sugar and no sleep and the next couple days were not so fun but I look back on those memories fondly now! I met my best friend, Amber Bassett, in undergrad and my husband, Logan Lane, and a whole new set of friends in graduate school, and for that I am exceedingly grateful!