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October 5, 2012

Meis name returns downtown

Plaza dedicated in front of ISU Foundation building

TERRE HAUTE — The name Meis, once synonymous with a well-known Terre Haute department store, returned to the city’s downtown Thursday with the dedication of Meis Plaza, a gift from Lu and Alane “Laney” Meis.

The plaza at 30 N. Fifth St. is in front of the offices of the Indiana State University Foundation, a building that also houses Barnes & Noble bookstore. The mainstay of the plaza is a sculpture, named “Renewal,” created by Tim Upham of Fort Collins, Colo.

“I can’t say enough about all the people in our community who keep stepping up to the plate to make these things happen. The outdoor sculpture collection continues to expand and it gives us so many more destinations downtown and beautifies the entire community,” Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said during a special dedication ceremony.

Laney Meis is a board member of the Art Spaces Inc. and Lu Meis is a director of Vermillion Development Corp., which partnered to build the new Barnes & Noble Bookstore and the building that houses the Indiana State University Foundation. Lu Meis, 78, has been a member of the ISU foundation for more than 40 years.

“This is the greatest example of collaboration there can be for a project. It is when public and private sectors work together and that is how it works to get these types of projects accomplished,” Laney Meis said.

She said the site simply “called for something” as it was being developed. “We are always looking for sites for a sculpture and thought this would be a great spot,” Laney Meis said. “Our whole point of Art Spaces was not only culturally, but we thought it was an economic component to the city. Terre Haute is getting kinda known for their sculptures now.”

While the sculpture was erected last year, the plaza was completed Wednesday, just before Thursday’s official dedication, Laney Meis said. “We hope people will enjoy this for many, many years,” she said.

Lucien “Lu” Meis said his father, Lucien Meis, and partner Salo Levite, began Meis department store in 1928 in Terre Haute. A Meis store was operated at the intersection of 61⁄2 Street and Wabash Avenue in downtown Terre Haute until the late 1970s.

“We went to Honey Creek Mall, then to The Meadows and then to Plaza North and seven other cities, such as Paducah, Ky.,” Meis said. “We also had a jeans store chain, called the Bottom Half. We sold all that to the Brown Shoe Co. [in the 1972] and I ran if for 17 years [under the Meis name] as CEO.”

Meis said he retired in 1989, after the renamed Brown Group, sold the business to Elder Beerman. Meis then was involved in a car dealership in Martinsville, with ISU and Boston Celtic basketball star Larry Bird as a partner. Meis has since sold his interest in that dealership.

Meis later purchased Culligan Water Conditioning, a Terre Haute business which partner Donna Brunner operates, he said.

“I owe Indiana State University a lot. They were instrumental in our initial progress. We had a lot of employees that went to Indiana State and a lot of [ISU] students worked as co-workers with us. I have been involved in the athletics at Indiana State and so I am an adopted alumni,” he said.

Mary Kramer, executive director of Art Spaces Inc., said sculptor Upham was selected from among 122 applicants from 35 states and four foreign countries.

The sculpture incorporates ISU’s sycamore leaf, which can be seen by standing under the wave-like motion of the sculpture. It is Upham’s first sculpture for a university-related site.

Upham used stainless steel as a mesh to hold large colored glass marbles in the middle of the painted steel framework. “I had a site visit here. The [bookstore/foundation] building was not actually here then, but they had all the architectural plans. I just liked the idea that it would create some kind of wave or something of that energy that is heading toward the main entrance of the ISU foundation building,” Upham said.

Upham said the fabricating of the sculpture was done in about three months, but it was a yearlong project from making the final list of artists for the project, to final concept, contract, fabrication and installation.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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