Marvin Miller has a vision.
The 71-year-old real-estate-veteran-turned-entrepreneur is representing a landowner trying to sell 125 acres just north of Indianapolis International Airport. But Miller wants him to give away some of the property to persuade California-based Lucas Oil to move its headquarters there, jump-starting the stagnant area in the process.
"[The area] is just ready to bust loose," Miller said, comparing it to fast-developing Plainfield to the west. "The city just needs somebody to come in and put in something major."
Miller has had grand plans before. He launched a garage-screen business from his home in late 2002 and grew Kitty Mac Inc. into an enterprise that's on track to do $2 million in sales this year--thanks in large part to his ability to get his product onto shelves at Lowe's Home Improvement stores.
But his concept for west-side Lucas Oil offices is a tougher sell.
The saga started last summer. Miller represented Donald E. Lambert of Plainfield when he bought the 125-acre parcel on West Washington Street, just west of Interstate 465 and north of the airport. Lambert had hopes of developing an office and industrial park on the mostly vacant property, home to a few horse barns and a practice track for horse racing.
A few months earlier, Indiana native Forrest Lucas had announced that his motor oil company would pay $121.5 million to put its name on the new stadium being built downtown.
Miller has known Lucas Oil representatives since he printed a screen used as a backdrop in a local television program the company sponsored about three years ago. So Miller asked Lambert about giving away some land--three acres, initially--in exchange for using the Lucas name on the development, something along the lines of "The Lucas Oil Industrial Park."
He also proposed adding turn lanes on Morris Street and U.S. 40, the northern and southern boundaries of Lambert's parcel--which would require cooperation from city and state officials.
But Lucas' reps told him they'd need at least four acres and that they weren't comfortable with their name being used on the park.
Miller let sleeping dogs lie until he read a profile of Lucas in the January issue of Indianapolis Monthly, where the CEO and his wife, Charlotte, talked about the possibility of moving to the Indianapolis area. He decided to give the pitch another try.
He tried to set up meetings with city and state officials, eventually getting Jim Garrard, Indianapolis' director of economic development, to agree to a site visit. Garrard said he's willing to listen but mostly wants to help Lucas when the timing's right, not prescribe a site for him.
So Miller shot off a FedEx packet on his own to Lucas late last month, offering to give Lucas 6.2 acres of Lambert's land in exchange for a handful of tickets at Lucas Oil Stadium, though the tickets were negotiable. The key to the deal, Miller said, is the city's and state's agreeing to the road improvements on U.S. 40 and Morris Street.
But while Lambert has given Miller free rein to negotiate, he said he's not willing to give away frontage he said is worth roughly $650,000 unless he's getting something close to that amount in infrastructure improvements.
"Let [Miller] run his offers by Lucas and if they're interested, then we'll get down to the nitty-gritty," Lambert told IBJ.
It might never get to that point, though, because Lucas isn't convinced the parcel's a good fit.
"It's not something we're seriously considering, to tell you the truth," he told IBJ.
Lucas said while he's still looking at the possibility of opening an Indianapolis-area office, he would want a higher-profile location than West Washington Street, probably in downtown Indianapolis or in Brownsburg, where the company already has set up a couple of businesses.
Both Indianapolis and the town of Brownsburg have been in touch with company officials, and Brownsburg has put together a generous package of aid.
"We've offered him incentives that we've offered nobody else," said Brownsburg Town Council President Mike Green, declining to outline the specifics.
Still, Lucas said the final verdict will take more time.
"It's a big deal making those kinds of plans," Lucas said, declining to put a time frame on a decision. "If we do anything, we'd want it to be a pretty nice place."
Talk has centered on moving some of the company's Corona, Calif.-based operations to central Indiana. There are about 100 employees in offices and a plant in Corona, Lucas said, but even with a central Indiana office, the West Coast location would remain open.
Despite Lucas' response, Miller said he still holds out some hope that Lucas might consider his spot.
"I've been a salesman for 30 years," he said. Unless it's a firm no, he said, there's always room for negotiation.
"It's never over until the fat lady sings," he said. Besides, after plunking down $121.5 million for naming rights to the new stadium, the frugal alternative might grow on Lucas over time, Miller said.
"If he stretched to afford that, he may want to watch his nickels and dimes," he said.
But Miller's also working on Plan B. He said Indianapolis Power & Light Co. wants four acres for power equipment and two other potential buyers are close to making offers on portions of the parcel.
Miller said his interest all along was just to help the area and lure a Lucas Oil office to Indianapolis.
"Our No. 1 goal was to be a good citizen," he said.