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GM site ripe for manufacturing or a judicial center

August 27, 2011

The Urban Land Institute panel’s plan for the General Motors plant site ignores some realities in favor of presenting a relatively predictable New Urbanism redevelopment plan.

Particulars of the plan call for creating a village-downtown feel at the heart of the development. Unfortunately, “downtowns” and village shopping districts that aren’t on major arteries and aren’t served by public transit don’t work. Indianapolis’ “village centers” that feature live-work-play environments are all on arteries and bus lines: Irvington, Fountain Square, Mass Ave., Broad Ripple and the College Corridor in Meridian Kessler.

chris barnett Barnett

Streets are being realigned in Speedway to bring a direct connection of 16th and Crawfordsville to “downtown” (Main Street) there. The forthcoming CityWay development is at the corner of Delaware and South streets, two major arteries.

Even though the GM plant is closed, others around it are still operating. The plan especially overlooks the negative impact of the adjacent railroad and nearby Citizens Energy steam plant. The city steam loop will not go away soon nor will the steam plant and its coal trains.

People have been moving away from heavy industrial sites since the dawn of the industrial era, with good reason: The sites are noisy, dirty, smelly and unattractive. Will the project’s target demographic want to live a few hundred yards from all that?

The most significant issue is that the GM site is a brownfield on a riverbank, the sort of place that can be difficult, slow and expensive to clean up to residential standards. This alone argues for commercial-industrial reuse: It can happen a lot faster.

In addition, the site is well-served by rail and interstate. With logistics and advanced manufacturing being key economic-development targets in Indianapolis, this site is prime real estate for those preferred uses.

The GM site is across the river from downtown and the ULI redevelopment plan requires a new bridge and an expensive extension of South Street. On the east bank of White River, there are also riverfront commercial/industrial sites; these parcels west and southwest of Lucas Oil Stadium have higher potential for “near downtown” redevelopment without the need for an expensive bridge.

If there is to be a long-term industrial-to-residential transformation near downtown, the east bank of the White River presents a more realistic option. The GM site could serve as a new home for businesses relocating from that area.

If the city really wants to do something transformative on the GM site, consideration should be given to creating a “Marion County Justice Center” there, assuming that there are parts of the plant buildings and parcel suitable for residential (jail) uses. Relocating the four jail facilities from East Washington and Market streets (Jail, Jail II, Arrestee Processing Center, and Liberty Hall) as well as Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency, criminal courts, prosecutor, public defender, and police agencies would allow for a well-planned central and secure facility.

Creation of the justice center would require additional development for criminal lawyers, bail bondsmen, social service/reentry organizations, and food services adjacent to the facility.

Most importantly, moving the criminal justice functions to the GM site would help remove the mental and physical barriers to reinvestment and redevelopment east of the City-County Building from Washington to Ohio streets, and lead to significant transformation there. For example, maybe Angie’s List could be persuaded to expand into the high-visibility APC and Jail II facilities along the interstate, and perhaps projects on the Bank One Ops Center and Market Square Arena sites could move forward without the stigma of being surrounded by jails.•

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Barnett is a community economic development professional who lives and works in Center Township.

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