Commercial Real Estate and Urban development and The Nature Conservancy and LEED and Development/Redevelopment and Environment and Real Estate & Retail

Nature Conservancy buys blighted industrial site

January 14, 2008

The Nature Conservancy has agreed to buy a blighted industrial property on the eastern edge of downtown to develop a new Indiana headquarters.

The $4.5 million project--which will revitalize or replace the former home of Nemec Heating & Supply Co. at 614 E. Ohio St.--should provide another boost to an area that has been bulking up on development, mainly residential.

The property takes up about half the block between Easley Winery and the former home of Harmon Auto Glass, where construction is under way on a six-story, 105-unit condo and retail building called The Maxwell. The rest of the block is occupied by funeral services firm Buchanan Group, which just finished renovating its new headquarters, an old warehouse building at 600 E. Ohio St.

The Nature Conservancy has agreed to pay about $1 million for the one-acre property and will spend up to $3.5 million on either a new building or renovations to the existing one, said Mary McConnell, the group's director for Indiana. The local office is part of a not-for-profit that has protected 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide.

The conservancy is working with locally based Axis Architects to design an energy-efficient headquarters with a "green" roof and extensive landscaping that could spruce up a gateway to the city. The property is one of the first you see after exiting interstates 65/70 on the westbound Ohio Street ramp.

McConnell said her organization is aiming for the highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification.

"We're an international conservation organization; if anyone should be walking the walk of sustainability, it should be The Nature Conservancy," McConnell said. "We'd like to set a standard to show this type of construction is a great economic tool."

The group currently has offices in the Harrison Center for the Arts at 1505 N. Delaware St. The Conservancy is the only non-arts tenant in the building, and its lease is up in May 2009.

McConnell has instructed Axis to explore the possibility of either renovating the two-story, 20,000-square-foot Nemec building, or starting from scratch on the site, which also includes a 5,000-square-foot building. She said the walls of the Nemec building are rotting from water damage, and renovation would be pricey.

"It's structurally in horrible shape," McConnell said.

The addition of Nature Conservancy's 30-person office is good news for Maxwell developer Kosene & Kosene, which has several properties in the neighborhood. In particular, daytime traffic will help support first-floor retail planned for The Maxwell, said Tadd Miller, an owner of Kosene & Kosene.

"The biggest problem with that strip is, the businesses don't have a lot of people to them," Miller said. "Any office use we can get there is definitely beneficial. It would be nothing but positive for the neighborhood."

Nature Conservancy isn't the only not-for-profit moving to an old industrial building near downtown. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful paid about $500,000 last year for a building in Fountain Square that was home to janitorial supply company Roger Popp Inc.

KIB is planning a $1.7 million renovation of the 25,000-square-foot building at the corner of Fletcher and Shelby streets. KIB also plans to seek LEED certification. Another not-for-profit, 500 Festival, also moved to a renovated downtown building last year. The hosts of the 500 Festival Parade took 10,000 square feet in the former Junior Achievement building at 21 Virginia Ave.

The Nature Conservancy deal is scheduled to close in late January or early February, said Tony Hupp, a broker with Indianapolis-based Summit Realty Group. Hupp and Bill Ehret represented the sellers. John Snell of Snell Real Estate Valuation Co. represented The Nature Conservancy pro bono.

Nemec Supply put the property on the market in October, with an asking price of $1.5 million. The company moved to 6996 E. 32nd St., near Shadeland Avenue, at the end of 2007.

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