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Preservationists float ideas for reusing City Hall

October 30, 2013
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An upscale hotel, a brewery or perhaps even an event center.

Those are just a few of the ideas suggested by a group of historic preservationists, urban planners, architects and civic leaders as potential reuses for the old Indianapolis City Hall at 202 N. Alabama St.

As part of the Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference, which runs through Nov. 2, the group Tuesday explored ways to breathe new life into the historic granite-and-limestone landmark.

The building has been vacant for the past six years and last housed the interim Central Library after the Indiana State Museum moved to White River State Park in 2002.

The Metropolitan Development Commission voted Oct. 16 to authorize spending $150,000 from the department’s redevelopment general fund to make the building inhabitable for temporary offices and meeting space—in all about 9,000 square feet.

The $150,000 would cover a laundry list of repairs, including putting chillers in working order and opening three large windows blocked by drywall and masonry, plus a year of cleaning and maintenance.

The city owns the building and splurged for a new roof but doesn’t have the millions of dollars needed to renovate the building. That’s where a private developer might step in to partner with the city and run with one of the reuse plans floated by the historic preservationists.

“I do think it’s realistic,” said Adam Thies, director of the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development. “It’s all about finding and calibrating the right uses with the right costs.”

So detailed were the presentations by the preservationists that several of them included estimates for the total cost of a project, how much would be needed to finance it and how much revenue the idea might generate. The cost for a hotel project, for example, was estimated at $28 million.

Names also came into play. A brewery could be called the Twin Eagle Brewing Co. in recognition of the two eagle sculptures perched near the building's main entrance, one group suggested. Another idea, for a museum, called the Motor Palace, would pay homage to the city's rich racing history and the Indianapolis 500.

Other proposals for the building included an innovation center for startups, an education center that would include a charter school, or simply a government center to ease space concerns at the City-County Building.

Old City Hall opened in 1910 and housed city offices until the arrival of the City-County Building in 1962. It was home to the state museum for about 35 years.

Part of the problem in making the building useable is its design limitations. The building’s most unique feature is the rotunda, topped with stained glass, which makes for a majestic foyer, but creates a lot of empty space across three upper floors.
 

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