Visions for ailing City Market include arts venue, YMCA

December 3, 2009

An affordable housing developer wants to build a performing arts complex at downtown’s City Market.

Riley Area Development Corp., a not-for-profit, is one of six parties that responded to Mayor Greg Ballard’s request for new ideas at the struggling market site.

Kurt Fullbeck, a project assistant in the mayor’s Office of Enterprise Development, said the city would not reveal details of the responses to its “request for information” until late December at the earliest. The deadline for proposals was Dec. 2.

Fullbeck said the six respondents were a “broad range” of design and development firms.

Also in the picture is YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, which has been in talks with the city for the past year about eventually building a full-service fitness center on the site.

The historic market pavilion sits on Market Street between Delaware and Alabama streets, just north of the City-County Building. With declining foot traffic to that quadrant of downtown in recent years, City Market has become a food court that mainly captures the workday lunch crowd.

A not-for-profit organization with directors appointed by the City-County Council and mayor runs City Market. It’s come to rely on a city subsidy, which Ballard wants to eliminate.

In its recent RFI, the city focused on redeveloping two wings on either side of the historic main hall. The RFI said the city would favor uses that promote visual and performing arts and “a healthy lifestyle” with lockers, showers and bicycle storage.

The YMCA would like to replace the east wing with a multi-story fitness center, special counsel Peter Cleveland said. Through its talks with the city, the Y expects to be given space on the site, but it wouldn’t act as a lead developer. The Y did not submit a proposal under the city’s RFI process.

Cleveland said the would-be developers are aware of the Y’s role. Several, including Riley Area, contacted him to talk about how to incorporate the Y in their plans. 

“Under any development plan, I don’t know why the Y wouldn’t be included,” Cleveland said.

Riley Area board member Gary Reiter conceived of a mixed-use arts center last year, and has been hunting for a site.

“Most live-work art spaces are for the visual arts,” he said. “But this project will focus on the performing arts and literary arts community.”

Riley has converted two historic buildings into affordable apartments, the Davlan on Massachusetts Avenue, and the Rink-Savoy on Vermont Street. 

On the City Market site, Riley would build 63 one-bedroom apartments with ground-floor commercial tenants and three 100-seat theaters in the basement. The apartments would be reserved for artists, Reiter said.

Depending on available funding, a 500-seat theater and other amenities could be added.

Riley Area would apply for $10.5 million in low-income housing tax credits to build the apartments and the shells for commercial space. Other grants, private-fund raising and tenants would cover the remaining cost, estimated at $33.5 million to $50 million.

Reiter is hopeful that its two commercial-space users would be the YMCA and Dance Kaleidoscope, which might build its own studio. Both not-for-profits would have to raise money to finish construction.

The design would hinge on a market study to determine the precise demand for apartments, as well as other development partners’ needs, Reiter said.

Riley Area submitted to the city non-binding letters of interest from Dance Kaleidoscope, the Indianapolis Opera, and Storytelling Arts, all of which would like to use rehearsal or performance space downtown.

The YMCA is holding off on backing one proposal over another, Cleveland said.

The organization has other hurdles to clear before it can commit to a downtown center. The YMCA recently started construction on a new fitness center in Avon. Its current fund-raising priority is for a $25 million center in Pike Township, Cleveland said. The Y would like to start construction on that next year.

The whole City Market project, including a YMCA component, may have to be built in phases, Cleveland said.

If the YMCA does proceed with a full-service center, the organization would continue to operate its gym inside the historic Athenaeum.

The Y’s market study shows that a new downtown center with aquatics would draw not just office workers, but families from several miles in every direction, Cleveland said. The Athenaeum, meanwhile, would retain its own Massachusetts Avenue-centered membership base.


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