City Market hopes catacombs tours spur interest in redevelopment

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Underneath the bustling Indianapolis City Market lies a quiet, cavernous basement of brick archways and columns dimly lit by hanging bulbs.

It’s an unlikely public venue, but officials nevertheless are hopeful the so-called catacombs can be transformed into a useful space.

“Ideally, we would love a restaurant down there,” said Wayne Schmidt, president of City Market’s board of directors. “It would be fabulous, but so far we’ve had no bites.”

rop-catacombs06-15col.jpg Indiana Landmarks volunteer Carolyn Curry leads a tour of the City Market catacombs. (IBJ photo/Perry Reichanadter)

Until recently, the catacombs—one of the only remainders of City Market neighbor Tomlinson Hall, which burned down in 1958—have been a mystery to most. But during the week before Super Bowl XLVI, City Market Corp. teamed up with Indiana Landmarks to give tours of the subterranean rooms. Since then, about 700 people have wandered through the remains of the structure built in 1886. (See below for a video tour of the catacombs.)

The partnership came about due to a shared wish that someone would make use of the area, said Neil Stowe, a volunteer docent with Indiana Landmarks, a locally based historic preservation group.

“It’s 20,000 square feet of wasted space,” he said.

Early last year, the City Market board drafted a request for proposals from business owners interested in remodeling the catacombs—while maintaining their historic elements. The document was never released to the public because the board became distracted with other tasks on its agenda, specifically renovations to other portions of the property at 222 E. Market St.

In recent years, City Market has made extensive improvements to its structure, renovating the main market house and the east wing, which now includes a YMCA of Greater Indianapolis branch and a bicycle hub. The west wing is being converted into shared office space called The Platform. Set to open in October, it will house a number of neighborhood improvement organizations.

“The city has made tremendous gains in terms of increasing the diversity of retail” at the market, said Marc Lotter, director of communications in Mayor Greg Ballard’s office.

City Market has seen a lot more foot traffic since the renovations, said Executive Director Stevi Stoesz.

Redeveloping the catacombs into a restaurant could provide an additional draw, said Mike Halstead, president of Halstead Architects and a former City Market board member.

Schmidt said the lack of an RFP hasn’t stopped the board from casually discussing the prospect of renovations with restaurant operators. Market leaders also have had informal talks with a local food retailer about the space, but Stoesz declined to identify that potential tenant.

Still, not everyone is sold on the idea.

“Although it is a unique [space], I think it would be hard to find someone to operate a restaurant there,” said Steve Delaney, a principal at Indianapolis-based retail real estate firm Sitehawk.

He noted that Indianapolis residents are used to dining on the first floor of buildings, making underground restaurants a harder sell. Delaney, who has visited the catacombs, said the space might make a better event venue.

catacombs-factbox.gifStoesz said in the past couple of decades, the catacombs have been used for special events, such as a haunted house, TV commercials, an art festival and an environmental education event.

“It’s an ongoing effort of ‘ideation,’ if you will, about how to properly use and honor the catacombs,” she said.

The price tag also presents a challenge. Halstead estimated renovations would cost $3 million to $4 million—a hefty investment for a high-risk venture.

“It would take someone with a lot of guts and willing to take a big risk to put that kind of money into this space,” he said.

Some of the challenges include getting natural light, ventilation and emergency exits into the catacombs, Halstead said. Opening up windows along Delaware Street that have been blocked by concrete would provide a partial solution.

City Market and Indiana Landmarks employees believe the underground space mainly served as storage for Tomlinson Hall—a gathering place for vendors, similar to City Market. Tomlinson Hall also had a 3,500-seat auditorium and is most famously known for hosting Indiana’s first public basketball game.

Halstead, who has explored the catacombs, said the design of repetitive barrel vaults, spread about 10 feet apart, was exceptional for the time period. The Romans began using a similar plan for infrastructure over 2,000 years ago.

“Today, no one would do this because the labor would be too extreme and too expensive,” Halstead said.

The catacombs survived the fire that destroyed all of Tomlinson Hall except for one archway that stands outside City Market.

Halstead doesn’t expect anyone to start a project soon.

“I believe in this current economy that there won’t be anybody willing to step up and take that risk,” he said. “I do believe in five to 10 years from now, there will be someone who will see the quality of this space and what it can be.”•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Apologies for the wall of text. I promise I had this nicely formatted in paragraphs in Notepad before pasting here.

  2. I believe that is incorrect Sir, the people's tax-dollars are NOT paying for the companies investment. Without the tax-break the company would be paying an ADDITIONAL $11.1 million in taxes ON TOP of their $22.5 Million investment (Building + IT), for a total of $33.6M or a 50% tax rate. Also, the article does not specify what the total taxes were BEFORE the break. Usually such a corporate tax-break is a 'discount' not a 100% wavier of tax obligations. For sake of example lets say the original taxes added up to $30M over 10 years. $12.5M, New Building $10.0M, IT infrastructure $30.0M, Total Taxes (Example Number) == $52.5M ININ's Cost - $1.8M /10 years, Tax Break (Building) - $0.75M /10 years, Tax Break (IT Infrastructure) - $8.6M /2 years, Tax Breaks (against Hiring Commitment: 430 new jobs /2 years) == 11.5M Possible tax breaks. ININ TOTAL COST: $41M Even if you assume a 100% break, change the '30.0M' to '11.5M' and you can see the Company will be paying a minimum of $22.5, out-of-pocket for their capital-investment - NOT the tax-payers. Also note, much of this money is being spent locally in Indiana and it is creating 430 jobs in your city. I admit I'm a little unclear which tax-breaks are allocated to exactly which expenses. Clearly this is all oversimplified but I think we have both made our points! :) Sorry for the long post.

  3. Clearly, there is a lack of a basic understanding of economics. It is not up to the company to decide what to pay its workers. If companies were able to decide how much to pay their workers then why wouldn't they pay everyone minimum wage? Why choose to pay $10 or $14 when they could pay $7? The answer is that companies DO NOT decide how much to pay workers. It is the market that dictates what a worker is worth and how much they should get paid. If Lowe's chooses to pay a call center worker $7 an hour it will not be able to hire anyone for the job, because all those people will work for someone else paying the market rate of $10-$14 an hour. This forces Lowes to pay its workers that much. Not because it wants to pay them that much out of the goodness of their heart, but because it has to pay them that much in order to stay competitive and attract good workers.

  4. GOOD DAY to you I am Mr Howell Henry, a Reputable, Legitimate & an accredited money Lender. I loan money out to individuals in need of financial assistance. Do you have a bad credit or are you in need of money to pay bills? i want to use this medium to inform you that i render reliable beneficiary assistance as I'll be glad to offer you a loan at 2% interest rate to reliable individuals. Services Rendered include: *Refinance *Home Improvement *Inventor Loans *Auto Loans *Debt Consolidation *Horse Loans *Line of Credit *Second Mortgage *Business Loans *Personal Loans *International Loans. Please write back if interested. Upon Response, you'll be mailed a Loan application form to fill. (No social security and no credit check, 100% Guaranteed!) I Look forward permitting me to be of service to you. You can contact me via e-mail howellhenryloanfirm@gmail.com Yours Sincerely MR Howell Henry(MD)

  5. It is sad to see these races not have a full attendance. The Indy Car races are so much more exciting than Nascar. It seems to me the commenters here are still a little upset with Tony George from a move he made 20 years ago. It was his decision to make, not yours. He lost his position over it. But I believe the problem in all pro sports is the escalating price of admission. In todays economy, people have to pay much more for food and gas. The average fan cannot attend many events anymore. It's gotten priced out of most peoples budgets.