Mixed-Use and Urban development and Development/Redevelopment and Real Estate & Retail

Meridian Street landmark gets new life

February 26, 2007

Buckingham Cos., the Indianapolis-based owner/manager of more than 60 apartment complexes in five states, has broadened its development sphere to include three square blocks of downtown real estate.

The developer on Feb. 20 closed on a deal to buy 114,284 square feet of office space at 930 and 941 N. Meridian St. and surrounding properties--with plans to invest $6 million to $10 million in the buildings in the coming years.

A purchase price wasn't disclosed, but former property owner MSE Realty LLC had the land and buildings listed at $3.95 million recently.

The centerpiece of the acquisition is 941 N. Meridian St., a vacant, 24,000-square-foot building commonly known as the Stokely Van Camp building. Buckingham plans to begin renovating the three-story building's interior immediately, restoring the white terra cotta exterior to its 1920s glory.

The developer hopes to move its headquarters to the building from leased space at 333 N. Pennsylvania St. by late summer, said David Leazenby, Buckingham's vice president of land development.

Buckingham's decision to purchase the property was spurred by the company's growth. The firm has outgrown its 10,500-square-foot space and expects to double its headquarters staff to 80 people in the next three years, Leazenby said.

Locally, Buckingham's projects include the $500 million redevelopment of Carmel's Mohawk Hills apartments into the 116-acre Gramercy mixed-use project, and several smaller efforts in and around downtown Carmel.

New staffers will be hired in the coming months to handle those and future projects, as well as Buckingham's growing property-management and construction businesses, Leazenby said. The company employs 400 people at its properties across the Midwest and Southeast.

In looking for new headquarters space, Buckingham considered several options, including leasing larger space in a downtown complex or moving to another part of the city. Ultimately, however, it chose to buy downtown and invest in the resurgence of a neighborhood that soon will include the newly expanded Central Library and several condominium renovations.

"It fits our character, our personality as an urban multifamily developer," Leazenby said.

Opening up buildings

Buckingham plans to occupy the second and third floors of the Stokely Van Camp building, and use the first floor for future expansion space or other tenants. First-floor corner space will be reserved for retail, such as a cafe or restaurant, Leazenby said.

A newer structure attached to the east side of the building, at 21 E. St. Joseph St., will continue to house the local headquarters of Radio One Inc. Other tenants also will stay put, including MSKTD & Associates, a local architectural firm that leases the second floor of 930 N. Meridian St., and Wishard Health Services, which leases a one-story building on the property for storage.

Buckingham plans to renovate and add about 2,500 square feet to 930 N. Meridian, the nondescript, 14,600-square-foot, two-story building across the street from its new headquarters. Plans call for Buck ingham to include first-floor retail space and additional office space.

At both Meridian Street properties, plans call for installing more first-floor windows to "open up the buildings to the street," Leazenby said.

"We want to bring ... more people to the street [with more tenants]," he said. "It lacks foot traffic--that's what we plan to bring."

The third parcel of Buckingham's acquisition is a vacant block to the north of the Stokely Van Camp building, now used as a parking lot. The developer has no immediate plans for that parcel, but will weigh options for a mixed-use development that could include a residential component, Leazenby said.

Buckingham still is in the process of determining what zoning approvals will be needed for its project, but already has gone over plans with Indianapolis Downtown Inc. and Near North Development Corp.

Near North's board has not met yet to weigh in on Buckingham's proposal, but staffers don't have any major objections, said President Amy Kotzbauer.

"We're excited," she said. "The Stokely building has been on our radar screen. We've been concerned about who would get their hands on it and what their plans would be. It's one of the most significant terra cotta buildings [in the city]."

A storied past

Although the 3-plus-acre property seemed to offer a prime downtown redevelopment opportunity, it languished on the sale block for nearly two years until Buckingham started considering it about eight months ago.

The property had been under contract twice in the past two years, but the would-be buyers--both speculative investors--ultimately passed, said Darrin L. Boyd, a principal with the local office of Colliers Turley Martin Tucker who listed the property and brokered the sale to Buckingham.

"The first two [offers] were not owner-user deals," Boyd said in an e-mail. "Buckingham was, and that made it a perfect fit for their long-term needs."

While the property was listed, CTMT received more than nine offers for the block on the west side of Meridian Street including 930 N. Meridian, but Boyd and the sellers felt the property would bring the highest price as a package.

The Stokely Van Camp building had been owned since 1985 by MSE Realty LLC, headed by Sol Miller, former owner of Mid-States Engineering. MSE purchased the property from Stokely Van Camp, which vacated the corner of Meridian and St. Joseph streets following its 1983 acquisition by Chicago-based Quaker Oats.

Mid-States occupied the corner building until Miller sold the firm in 1997 to Analytical Surveys Inc. The latter leased space in the building for several years before moving its headquarters to San Antonio in 2002.

The property's showpiece was built as headquarters for the insurance arm of the Knights of Pythias in 1925. Stokely Van Camp bought the Gothic Revival building in 1946 for its headquarters.

Buckingham's plans include replacing all the building's windows, which are smaller than the originals. Interior renovations will include removing dropped ceilings and uncovering three original skylights, Leazenby said.

The building is not listed on any historic register, although it would qualify, he said. Buckingham is in the process of figuring out whether the building might qualify for tax credits available for historic buildings, which could help offset the costs of restoration.

According to the "Encyclopedia of Indianapolis," much of the marble paneling and wainscoting installed when the building was constructed was removed when Stokely Van Camp took ownership.

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