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Javier Solanas and Elizabeth Vasquez look at the map during the International Marketplace Gateway Plan Saturday, March 5, 2011 at Ray Skillman Kia showroom on Pike Plaza Road. Participants were to place one blue object on their place of residence, place one yellow object on their place of work, one green object on the location they feel serves as the entry to Lafayette Square, and place one red object on their top there commercial or retail destinations in Lafayette Square. / Danese Kenon / The Star

Greetings in English, Spanish, French, Chinese and other languages, combined with samples of Ethiopian lentils and bread, Indian chicken and rice, and Cajun pasta, gave people a taste of what is offered within an area being billed as an International Marketplace.

On Saturday, city leaders and several groups met with the public to discuss the creation of gateways and official entrances to the marketplace, also known as the Lafayette Square area, so that visitors know when they are entering the diverse Northwestside neighborhood.

“People want to make the International Marketplace a destination and a place they can be proud of,” Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said at the event, which was held at the Ray Skillman Kia showroom, 5336 W. Pike Plaza Road.

There are more than 150 ethnic restaurants, 40 international grocery stores and 15 bakeries in the International Marketplace, said Mary Clark, president of the Lafayette Square Area Coalition.

And more than 70 languages are spoken among residents and business owners in the area bounded by I-65 to the north and east, Moller Road to the west and 38th Street to the south.

More than 100 people attended Saturday’s event to learn about the plan, as well as to meet restaurant owners and sample the diverse cuisine.

Elizabeth Vasquez, 35, thinks it is great that the city wants to embrace and promote the diverse neighborhood. Vasquez is originally from Mexico but has been living on the Westside for five years. She is a teacher at the International School of Indiana.

“I like the idea that people from different countries can share their culture through food, languages, art and shops,” she said in Spanish. “It caught my attention that the mayor said that within 10 years he would like to hear a lot more languages spoken in the streets of the city.”

Javier Solanas, 35, originally from Spain and also a teacher at the International School, appreciates the city investing in the area, especially with the Super Bowl coming to the city next year.

Saturday’s event also was geared toward getting public input on the gateways, which could be put in place in three to five years, Clark said.

A large aerial photograph of the neighborhood was placed on the ground to serve as an interactive map. Visitors could place markers where they thought the gateways could go. They also voted on the types of elements they would like to see in the gateways — such as lights, public art and green spaces.

Daryl Black, 50, was one of many people who placed a gateway marker at the intersection of Lafayette Road and 38th Street. He also added one at High School Road and 38th Street.

The Pike Township Board member would like to have a monumental aspect to the gateways, with lighting features so they stand out.

The gateways will be paid for through tax dollars collected in the Community Redevelopment Enhancement District in the Lafayette Square area. The CRED designation takes sales-tax dollars from the redevelopment district and puts them into a fund that will be reinvested in the area.

The area around Lafayette Square has struggled with tenants vacating malls and other businesses shutting down, but David Garner, the head of the International School, said the proposed gateways could be beneficial because visual elements and signs could help draw people in.

“It’s a courageous vision for the area, which has certainly suffered in the past with the economy,” said Garner, who is originally from England.

To add to the neighborhood’s success, the city also hopes to change the misconception that the area is crime-ridden, said Pete Mungovan, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department commander of the Northwest District.

Last year, among the city’s six districts, the Northwest District ranked fourth for the most crime. And so far this year, crime is down 14.5 percent compared with a year ago, Mungovan said.

Abraha Belachew, the owner of Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, said he thinks the creation of the International Marketplace and gateways will help the area flourish.

“It’s more interesting,” he said of the increasing diversity. “In my restaurant, I get a lot of people from different countries, from America, China, Germany, France and Japan.”

Source: Indystar

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