Tourist Attractions and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Attractions and City Market and Tourism & Hospitality

City Market steering away from food court reputation

May 20, 2010

A $2.7 million renovation proposed for the downtown City Market seeks to draw more people to the historic building by returning it to its origins as a public marketplace.

The market’s board presented plans to the Metropolitan Development Commission on Wednesday for an overhaul that would demolish the venue's west wing and add vendor stands, restrooms and elevators to the main building. The plan is to then add daily live music and entertainment, attract a brewery and extend hours into the evening.

“I think we’ve been referred to, over the years, as a food court,” Executive Director Jim Reilly said. “We’re trying to get rid of that label.”

Market leaders no longer are seeking prepared food vendors to occupy space but instead are interested in attracting fresh offerings. A bakery, Circle City Sweets, opened earlier this month, for instance. Directors also are in discussions with several other potential tenants, including a soup shop, Reilly said.

In addition, a Saturday farmer’s market will be held year-round to complement the Wednesday farmer's market during the summer months, in an ongoing effort to attract more shoppers.   

Founded in 1886 and located just north of the City-County Building at Delaware and Market streets, City Market has long been a lunchtime institution. But its business has endured a slow, steady slide for decades as its customers moved to the suburbs.

A $2.7 million renovation in 2007 exacerbated the decline. The infrastructure work, which closed the market for several months, ran over budget and took longer than expected, causing vendors to lose business or close.

The latest proposal is an extension of the updates to the floors, lighting and plumbing, said Indianapolis architect Wayne Schmidt, president of the Indianapolis City Market Corp.

“This time, it’s all about the cosmetics,” he said “It’s about adding color.”

The market is expected to remain open during construction, Schmidt said, and no work will be done during lunchtime hours.

Current occupancy of the building is 50 percent, down from 95 percent at the start of the decade, when Reilly left the market after a six-year run as executive director. He returned in October 2008 to pursue a turnaround of the facility.

Occupancy dropped last year after the market ousted anchor Constantino’s Market Place over $27,000 in unpaid rent.

The market also pushed to negotiate rent settlements with other stands in arrears over rent, including former tenants Berkshire Florist and Lucia’s Italian Restaurant. To avoid lawsuits, current tenants Haleigh’s Harvest and Jumbo’s both agreed to payment plans.  

Funding for the proposed renovation must be approved by the Metropolitan Development Commission, which is scheduled to vote on the proposal June 2.

Work could start in August and be finished next spring, giving City Market time to promote itself as a Super Bowl destination in 2012.

The local host committee for the 2012 Super Bowl chose the market as a “recommended venue” for corporations that host event receptions and parties.

Meanwhile, city leaders continue to consider plans to redevelop the building’s underused wings. The city issued a “request for information” last fall and received proposals from six groups.

The west wing, which was not part of the original historic structure, would be torn down to ready it for a developer. Though no decision has been made from the six proposals, the idea getting the most attention involves erecting a Performing Arts Center, Schmidt said.

The proposal from the Riley Area Development Corp., which would include collaboration with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, also includes non-binding memorandums of understanding from 21 local arts organizations that expressed interest in the project.

The east wing would be converted into a bicycle hub facility with showers and lockers, Schmidt said.

“We want it to be a place where you can shop and have lunch, not just lunch,” he said.

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