CVS at 16th and Meridian – a Belated Reflection.

Try not to bounce in your chairs too much: a writer at Urban Indy has finally decided to assess the CVS at 16th and Meridian, a few years after it opened.  The general view around these parts–which probably prompted the majority of us not to feature it–was a resounding “meh” at the results, even though it obviously tries to improve on urban design principles from other drug stores in the area.  When juxtaposed with the Walgreens at the adjacent corner, the differences are obvious.


Our CVS on the left uses two stories (yes, that second floor is legit, even if the windows are fake and it’s only used by staffers), and it is pushed to the street corner, with no setbacks for parking.  Meanwhile, the Walgreens is barely distinguishable from the standard in the suburbs.  Parking dominates the parcel and the big “W” sign is clearly meant to be visible to vehicles traveling at high speeds.  By most metrics, the much newer CVS blows the Walgreens out of the water.

But is it really that amazing?  A few from the south side shows that it still host an abundance of parking (as much as the Walgreens) and an entrance that caters to motorists.


The door fronting the Meridian Street sidewalk–near the bus stop–is a fake.  The only real way to enter this CVS is the same as just about every other: pull into a private parking lot, then walk among the artillery of parked cars toward the entrance that directly faces that lot.  And this CVS still features a drive-thru pharmacy, like you’d see in Castleton or Carmel.  Nothing too special.

Could this section of Midtown Indy–just a mile and half from the absolute center of town–have done better by its drugstore?  Probably.  But, since the other three corners feature the Walgreens, a Chase bank, and a McDonald’s, all using thoroughly auto-oriented designs that prioritize parking by positioning it at the most prominent points, it’s easy to see why the developer of the CVS didn’t feel like there was a particularly great incentive for blazing any trails with this design.

The full article explains all of the different maneuverings the CVS developer was able to make to actualize the project, as well as design elements in which the City of Indianapolis stuck to its guns.  I decided to post the complete article at my personal blog, American Dirt, because it draws heavily from a similar infill project I wrote about in Birmingham, involving an okay-but-not-great Chick-fil-A.  Plenty more photos, as well as a thorough description, are available at the link to above.  I’m happy to answer comments or questions at either site.

Comments 27

  • And this CVS still features a drive-thru pharmacy, like you’d see in Castleton or Carmel.

    So is it your opinion that drive thrus don’t belong in the urban core?

  • I guess this depends on the definition of an urban core. Obviously the CVS smack in the middle of downtown (Ohio and Illinois) doesn’t have a drive-thru pharmacy. But just south of South street are a barrage of drive-thru fast food restaurants. And just outside of the Mile Square (and possibly even inside) are a few drive-thru banks.

    While I’m not keen on enjoining a significant portion of a business’s operations just because it’s not urban enough, I certainly don’t see it as an ideal when one considers efficiency of the use of space in an urban setting. I’d far prefer to foster a culture where developers don’t feel that drive thrus are necessary, but usually, in order to get that way, a city has to boast a certain core population density (as well as fundamental land values, which often correlate well to high population density). Indy isn’t close to being there, particularly in this Midtown area (and particularly to the west of this intersection). Until Indy passes this threshold, it doesn’t heart for design review teams to at least nudge developers in the direction that better supports efficient use of land.

  • I feel like we’re a little too quick to lambast Walgreens as the weak design counterpoint to CVS. While Walgreens admittedly gets a major ding for positioning a parking lot on the corner, they do feature windows that are actual windows, a door that actually interfaces with the street and is directly adjacent to the bus stop, and the drive-through is hidden on the back-side of the building.

    These stores suburban parking lots are also not created equal in quality or quantity. Walgreens primary parking area on the corner is only 42 spaces (22 more are hidden behind the building). CVS has one monstrous 78 car lot fronting Meridian. They significantly overshot both the zoning minimum (50 spaces) and the total of their adjacent competitor (64), and it’s never anywhere near capacity. There’s simply no defending that parking lot.

    • I’d agree with you, Chris, except that whenever the small outlot south of the CVS parking lot is redeveloped, the parking lot will serve that development too under the zoning code’s “integrated center” definition. The Walgreen’s lot serves only Walgreen’s. (I count 43 front spaces, for a total of 65 there.)

      Also not mentioned here is that the CVS parking is accessible by two alleys (the north-south one parallel to Meridian, and the east-west one from Pennsylvania to that N-S alley). In fact, one of CVS’ zoning variances supported by DMD staff was to allow use of the alley as maneuvering space for one row of 13 parking spaces…which is the entire difference between Walgreen’s 65 and CVS’ 78.

      I suppose that yours truly probably should have argued for a well-planted landscape buffer in place of that row of parking, since the parking lot makes the Meridian side of that block “see through” to the backs of the buildings on Pennsylvania. But there was some hope at the time that the rest of the Payton Wells property on Penn would be redeveloped in a manner integrated with the Meridian side.

      No alley serves the Walgreen’s; it relies entirely on curb cuts from Illinois, 16th, and Meridian.

      One more thought regarding parking. These two pharmacies serve the Methodist Hospital and its associated doctors’ offices. Most people arrive there by car, then if they are getting a prescription on the way out, drive to 16th and Meridian. These parking lots are consistently more full than most suburban stores’.

    • I do agree that Walgreen’s used to hide the dock, dumpsters, and drive-through a little better, though that has changed now that the old Payton Wells new-car and service building is down. And we should not overlook that the Walgreen’s front door is adjacent to Meridian…but it originally lacked a sidewalk connection to the public sidewalk. The pink patio blocks visible in Google Street View were an afterthought/retrofit.

      However, the bus shelter was an afterthought. The stop was originally north of the Meridian parking lot entrance with no shelter. Only after Walgreen’s opened and complained to the developer that people were hanging out by their front door, did the developer work with IndyGo and the CDC on a stop relocation and shelter site.

      That will create some pressure for the Red Cross to build back on approximately the same footprint as Payton Wells, to screen Walgreen’s ugly side.

      • Thanks for your comments again. Chris, you make some good points about the Walgreens. The Walgreens’ ingress certainly seems a lot more democratic than the CVS. The windows are legit. And, in my opinion, the biggest weakness of the CVS—worse than the meaningless door and fake windows–is the pointless chamfered corner that accentuates itself through the chamfer but then does nothing…no perforation whatsoever.

        Bearing that in mind, I think the signage for the CVS is still more gentle and appropriate than the Walgreens–and that’s one aspect that does not usually get a great deal of recognition.

        Perhaps, in the long run, the CVS design is also more amenable to change…not only in sharing the parking with an adjacent use, as Chris mentioned, but also because the side door could become usable after making some modest alterations. In other words, the CVS design still has some “placeholders” that might allow for room for improvement, in a rose-tinted future.

  • Some of Walgreens’ newest store designs are very much in contrast to those like the one at 16th and Meridian. Check out this store, which is being built in my neighborhood:

    It replaces an earlier prototype green store, which is also nearby, so there will probably be more to follow. Indianapolis or one of its neighborhood organizations should petition Walgreens to choose one of the many existing ugly Walgreens sites in the area as the site for their next such model store.

  • Thanks for addressing this topic Eric.

    I’ve always thought this CVS was a woeful design for an urban neighborhood, and since Walgreen’s has opened up its store by uncovering the windows at and below eye level, I believe that the Walgreen’s development is superior to CVS. I think one of the most important elements in urban design is pedestrian safety, both real and perceived. There’s no denying that all of CVS’s windows are fake (not just the 2nd story), in that they provide no view into or out of the store, and everyone knows it. There’s never a shadow of a possibility that any activity on the Meridian or 16th Street sidewalks will ever be viewed by employees or non-pedestrian customers of CVS.

    The City planning staff deliberated over recommending to the Metropolitan Development Commission that the CVS door be provided at the front corner of the building at 16th & Meridian. The developer balked. The City staff considered asking for a unique design with one door at 16th & Meridian and another at the SW corner of the building to serve the parking lot with an interior arcade walkway leading to one actual interior entry point into the store to accommodate the store’s security needs. The developer apparently balked at that as well. The City staff considered at least asking for the one door to be at the SW corner so that it could serve both the parking lot and pedestrian traffic from the sidewalk, like Walgreen’s. But in the end, the City planning staff told the MDC that a building on the corner, with no doors or usable windows providing any view into the building along either Meridian Street or 16th Street, and with its one door centered to optimally serve the ~70-space parking lot represented the type of superior development plan mandated by the Regional Center Zoning Ordinance that was in effect at the time the rezoning and variance petitions were filed. 🙁

    • I highly doubt ANY CVS has more than one public entrance. Theft is too much of a problem at these types of stores.

      • Matt,

        Here is a CVS store in Minnesota with two exterior entrances. More importantly though, this design only has one entrance into the actual store area of the building. There is an interior walkway/arcade just inside the front wall that funnels the two exterior entrances into one entrance. No additional concerns about shoplifting with this design.

        • Oh, and closer to home, the CVS at Ohio & Delaware has two entrances into the actual store itself, one from the sidewalk and one from the lobby of the office building.

  • Not a great area, the residential to the east is still somewhat ghetto and below market rate in price and quality. Need to consider what would be expected of a pharmacy in Mass Ave. Corporations are going to go with their B buildings where the residents don’t care.

    • The residential areas to the east are the Old Northside and Herron Morton neighborhoods. Those are lots of things, but certainly not “somewhat ghetto” if what you mean by that is “really poor”. The former Caravelle Commons (Section 8 housing project) is gone, replaced by the 16Park urban apartments.

  • “somewhat ghetto” is an expression probably worth retiring.

  • I hope no one imagines that I am saying that either of these represent “great” urban form. But compared to the sleazy, downscale motel (on the Walgreen’s site), the dodgy IHOP, the Indiana Department of Corrections probation/parole office facility, and the used car lot (on the CVS side) that used to be there? Much, much better.

    I’d give Walgreen’s as built a C-/D+, and CVS a B-. The door paths, bus shelter, and opening up of the Walgreen’s windows probably makes that site a solid C now. (On the rest of that intersection, Chase gets a C-, and McDonald’s an F+; the + is because it has outdoor tables and one “walkway” to the door, from the 16th St. sidewalk.)

    All four are active uses, and all four do have a significant number of customers who arrive on foot. The corner is one of the busiest “four way” intersections (both streets are two way) in the urban core, and there are many eyes on the street even when there are no store windows.

    • We certainly agree on your grade for the McDonald’s. Interestingly, I can’t really visualize the Chase very well, other than to say neither the building nor the parking lot are right at the corner. My ignorance is probably due to the fact that I’ve never had a reason to visit the building.

      I can’t agree on giving the CVS a higher grade than the Walgreen’s though. I think too many people give it a decent grade based on the lone fact that the building sits on the corner. That just doesn’t do anything for me when it has completely turned its back to both streets. Sure, we can dream that someday, the building will be remodeled and open up to the street, but is that really much more likely to happen than the building being replaced?

      I get your point about the number of cars going in all directions, which, in theory, puts a lot of eyes on the street. However, I think psychologists would probably have some theory to explain how people in passing cars tend to disassociate themselves from anything going on outside of their cars. I think I’d feel much safer waiting at a bus stop on a lightly traveled street outside a store that I could see into and be seen from than I would standing on a heavily traveled street along what is effectively a blank wall.

    • Chase actually sits at the corner of Pierson St., or as WFYI would have it, “Sesame Street” (the alley between Meridian & Illinois) and 16th. Its door is right off the public way, but its only windows are right at the door. The parking lot is the mirror of Walgreen’s, but it has a pedestrian plaza out by the corner of 16th and lots of street trees (every 30 feet) and other plantings that buffer the parking lot from the street. They also have a fairly inconspicuous blade sign near the corner and fairly narrow driveway apron.

      • Nice to see a chain adapt to existing space in older buildings, but unfortunately, that CVS covered up all the old windows as they are typically want to do. Contrast that with this CVS in a new mixed-use building where the design review process mandated that the windows not all be blocked:

  • Has anyone seen the new Family Dollar at 26th & MLK? It’s a solid F minus. The main entrance is on 26th St with two steel doors flanking MLK. Very hard to believe after spending $2 million dollars on infrastructure improvements this design was approved.

  • Here’s a relatively new (within 5 years) CVS in Bloomington in a suburban area. It’s built to the corner like the one at 16th and Meridian but has a real entrance facing the street rather than at the center of the parking lot.,-87.627919&spn=0.000006,0.001652&fb=1&gl=us&hq=cvs+division&hnear=0x880e2c3cd0f4cbed:0xafe0a6ad09c0c000,Chicago,+IL&cid=0,0,4981853832618208292&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=41.903941,-87.628196&panoid=ACwwZDej6grPLBT_2W–tA&cbp=12,329.35

    • Which one in Bloomington? That link goes to the one in Chicago that was listed above.

      Speaking of Bloomington, how’s this for awful? Almost makes me feel slightly better about the one at 16th & Meridian.

      View Larger Map

      • Here’s the address for the CVS mentioned above with the incorrect link:

        3910 W 3rd St, Bloomington, IN

        I agree with your comment about the CVS in Bloomington at 1000 N. College. That could have been so much better.

  • Wow! They built it on the corner, and they were able to put real windows on the street sides and a door that faces the sidewalk. How is that even possible? It looks like a much less dense area than 16th & Meridian. And the other corners have 2 gas stations and a church parking lot.

    Now, my belief has been solidified that the CVS at 16th & Meridian is an utterly abysmal, urban desire failure on just about every level.

    View Larger Map

    • This one still has a fake door at the corner and a blank wall along one street. There’s all that yucky yellow-tan EIFS and the standard ugly building-sign package, plus a suburban electronic-reader monument sign. The windows are half-blocked and all you can see is ceiling, and I don’t see street trees on the main entry side. Parking-lot screening is minimal. I think this one is not better.

      Also, the footprint of the building appears to be about 25% smaller, and the building lacks a truck dock…something required in Indy by zoning and as a practical matter.

      Interestingly, in the aerial, the parking lot looks as if the pavement under the parking places is porous pavement which, with the direct door, might help me give that site at most a half grade more than 16th & Meridian.

      • Chris, you’re right that CVS should take out the panels below the windows and replace them with clear glass so that you can see into the store at eye level, like you can at many of the newer Walgreen’s. But you can’t see into the store anywhere along either street, even up to the ceiling, at the CVS at 16th & Meridian. 16th & Meridian CVS = complete failure.

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