Tourist Attractions and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Concerts and Attractions and Central Canal and Tourism & Hospitality

Central Canal might get floating stage

May 26, 2008

A floating stage for concerts and a submarine memorial are in the works for Indianapolis' Central Canal, adding to the downtown waterway's growing base of attractions.

Efforts to develop a one-acre site at the heart of the canal, meanwhile, remain stalled.

Chuck Mack, a co-owner of Buggs Temple at 337 W. 11th St., has submitted conceptual plans to the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposing a floating, expandable stage that could be anchored in the basin in front of the restaurant at the north end of the canal.

"The stage would bring events and foster public and private use of the canal," Mack said.

He said the original design for the canal envisioned a stage at the 11th Street basin, so it already is circled by amphitheater steps that double as seating. But last-minute cost cutting decades ago sunk the stage.

His plans call for an octagonal stage that would stretch 16 feet at its widest point. It would be built to float so it could be moved, but the stage also would have feet that could be cranked down to provide support when it's parked.

When stationary and not in use, the stage would be connected to land by pier-like pedestrian walkways, offering the public access to a floating gazebo-like setting. Sitting areas would be covered by an awning that could be removed for concerts, plays and large events.

But the stage also could be broken down into smaller units with individual motors, which would putter to different locations on the canal for smaller events. A family could hold a wedding in one basin, for example, while a corporate meeting takes place in another.

The latest plans also include the possibility of breaking the stage into even smaller water taxis operated by Buggs Events, the temple's sister company that does event planning and catering along the canal.

Mack said he'd love to offer a brunch special at Tavern at the Temple where diners could be ferried down the canal to Ohio Street, then walk to a Colts game. They would be picked back up by the water taxi after the game and returned to Buggs Temple.

Buggs already has partnered with Old World Gondoliers on a similar venture, offering dinner and a gondola ride as a package--or even dinner during a gondola ride.

The main goal, Mack said, is to get more people to the canal.

"I'm amazed how many people who are in downtown Indianapolis and don't even know [the canal] exists," he said, despite existing attractions like canal-side dining, and bicycle and paddleboat rentals.

Stage construction would cost about $120,000, and Mack said he's in talks with a private investor he declined to identify.

If the stage is broken into smaller sections so it can be moved throughout the canal, it could generate rental revenue as a venue for weddings or corporate meetings--a bigger possibility once a new Clarian Health office building opens this summer.

The whole stage could rent for about $1,500 for large events and portions of it for as little as $150. Given its size, the stage likely would draw local or regional talent, adding a new level of performances to the big-name bands booked down the canal at The Lawn at White River State Park.

While Mack floats that proposal, separate plans are moving along to bring a portion of the USS Indianapolis SSN-697, a decommissioned nuclear attack submarine, to the canal.

It would be positioned just north of the USS Indianapolis CA-35 National Memorial, which commemorates the lives lost when the cruiser was torpedoed and sunk in July 1945. The existing memorial is on the east side of the canal just north of Walnut Street.

The Indiana War Memorials Commission brought the idea to the city more than a year ago but didn't make a lot of progress until Mayor Greg Ballard, a former Marine, took over in January.

"We didn't seem to be going anywhere and we brought this to the new mayor's attention and there's been a renewed interest in this," said Brig. Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin, the commission's executive director and an officer in the Indiana Air National Guard.

The city has asked the War Memorials Commission to survey the land directly north of the existing memorial with the intention of deeding land over to the commission. Once the U.S. Navy decommissions the submarine, which was active from 1980 to 1998, it also could give it to Goodwin's group.

A local chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II is working to raise more than $100,000 to transport the 17-foot-high, 60-ton sail and diving planes--the portion of the boat that shoots up from the main hull--to the city.

The commission then would install it in a concrete base built to look like the submarine's hull is "coming out of the water," Goodwin said.

"We put the sail on top of it and turn the rest into a park area with benches and some storyboards" about the ship, he said.

Elsewhere, two projects remain under consideration for a third development hot spot: a one-acre parcel that stretches on the east side of the canal from Ohio Street north to New York Street. The state, which owns most of the land, put out a call for proposals in 2007.

A partnership between locally based Browning Investments Inc. and Dora Brothers Hospitality Corp. pitched a nine-story building housing two hotel brands totaling 255 rooms. Wichita, Kan.-based LodgeWorks proposed a hotel that would span the canal, using space on the west side of the waterway that currently is home to an Indiana History Center parking lot.

State officials originally said they were waiting for the new city administration to review the proposals and provide input. In the interim, a group calling itself the Canal Park Advocates has been lobbying city and state officials to turn the parcel into a pocket park.

In March, Ballard sent the group a letter passing those discussions to the state.

"The majority of that space is owned by the state of Indiana and any discussions regarding a park should ... be held with state representatives," he wrote.

A state official said other state projects have taken precedence and the vetting process is still on hold.

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