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City Market steering away from food court reputation

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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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  • The Parking Fracas
    Perhaps parking could be solved with a binding agreement and signage directing people to one of the many garages within a block, rather than the construction of a new garage? As expendable as the wings to the Market are, I get an uneasy feeling that having the west wing "torn down to ready it for a developer" is Indy-speak for keeping it a surface parking lot indefinitely.
  • Look at North Market in Columbus
    I stopped through Columbus, OH for lunch and found a place called North Market (http://www.northmarket.com/). It was packed, had a great mix of food vendors, but also had local shops with produce, popcorn, gifts, etc. The parking there wasn't great, but better than what City Market has. Hopefully the city is looking at what other cities are doing.
  • Gimme A Break!
    You people are pathetic. If you park a measly two blocks away walk, if it rains bring an umbrella, if it's winter wear a jacket! This is a city for crying out loud, not a controlled bio-dome.
  • Parking in the city
    So don't address parking and let it fail again!!!
  • Pam is right
    Parking and covered/enclosed access is important. Don't forget it is winter/raining 3/4 of the year and many other places to eat that have better access.
  • Jumbos!
    Since the 2007 mess, I had forgotten how good their sandwiches are. Time to go back and get one of those babies!
  • City Market Renovations
    It could be more like Reading Station in Center City Philly,which is also an historic building, but is a destination in itself. It might get a lot more weekend traffic, unlike Union Station here, which was a boondoggle. Speaking of which, who is going to pay for this?
  • Reply to "Parking"
    Pam- Parking does not need to be addressed. There are 2 parking garages within a block plus street level parking on every city block around there. This isn't Fishers. You can't drive up in front of the store and park like at the strip malls. This is a downtown not a suburb.
    • Parking
      Parking needs to be addressed if the market wants more business. Not everyone works or lives within walking distance. I would go there if I could fine a place to park.
      • City Market Renovations
        Great news on the planned renovation of the City Market (West wing). However, what really needs to be addressed in the East wing, in order to attract more lunchtime business, is the seating. Smaller, more private eating areas with confortable, clean tables and chairs would go a long way to gaining business from my colleagues (and we're less than a block away and never eat there). The reason the Market is referred to as a food court is because... well, it IS! Change that image by partitioning off a "seat-yourself" dining area with booths, half walls, etc. We won't go there because it is dirty and "food-courtish." The west wing plans sound great, but spend a bit of the money on the East wing and I bet you'll see increased revenues. I know you'll gain my business.
      • Food court - about right
        When i worked downtown, i would say that the City Market WAS a food court. A good one at that but just that. The addition of brand name restaurants and a brewery (I'd love to see the now dwindling chain "Hops" back in town) is nice. There just needs to be parking.
      • Farmers Market
        I will most definitely shop at the Saturday Farmer's Market. This should have been implemented YEARS ago. Maybe some of the vendors who tried to make a go of it there would still be around if this had happened.

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