Commission: Turn dying GM plant into vibrant neighborhood

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A 10-member commission on Friday morning told city leaders to turn the 115-acre General Motors metal stamping plant site into a hip, funky neighborhood with an eye-catching bridge across the White River for easy access to downtown.

The commission also wants to crown the site of the defunct factory with a monument that could help evoke the automotive history of the site and the city at large.

The commission, chaired by former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, presented its ideas Friday morning at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown hotel. The city paid $115,000 for the study, which was organized by Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute.

“It does involve risk,” Hudnut said of the proposal. “It involves being willing to spend money to generate new revenue.”

The commission said it as impossible to predict the ultimate cost or jobs produced by the project. It would require the city to gain control of the land, and then coordinate the sale and development of chunks of it by private companies.

Hudnut estimated the plan would take 10 to 15 years to implement. The commission members spent the past week in Indianapolis preparing their recommendations. They will file a final report detailing the recommendations in 60 to 90 days.

The GM plant, opened in 1930, was set to close this month. It once employed more than 5,000 workers but the work force had dwindled to just 700 at the beginning of this year.

The workers rejected an offer last year to keep the plant running, made by Illinois-based JD Norman Industries, because it would have involved a substantial pay cut.

The city, which has been receiving $2 million annually from the site in real and personal property taxes, commissioned a study of the property in February.

The commission’s plan would see the city turn the newer part of the 2 million-square-foot factory into a mix of three-story condos and offices. Some offices would be used as an incubator for startups. The commission hopes the others attract ad agencies or young law firms and other looking for trendy space near downtown.

Some commission members compared their vision to the redevelopment that has occurred in recent decades in the Lockerbie Square and Chatham Arch neighborhoods. And they said the incubator and offices spaces might function in a simiilar way as the Stutz Building, a former auto plant at 10th Street and Capitol Avenue that now serves as offices for artists, an ad agency, a software firm, and other businesses.

The rest of the GM plant site would be filled by single-family and multifamily housing, as well as a school and playing fields for children. The commission also envisions a riverfront park.

The land in question sits just south of the Indianapolis Zoo on the west bank of the White River. Directly north of that area, on the other side of the river, sits the IUPUI campus. Directly south, across a residential neighborhood and Interstate 70, is Eli Lilly and Co.’s technology center.

Hudnut counseled city leaders to make travel between all those areas convenient. He wanted to propose an extension of the monorail from the Indiana University School of Medicine at IUPUI to the former GM site and on to the Lilly technology center. But, at a cost of $140 million per mile, the commission overruled him.

Current Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard listened to the recommendations and spoke highly of them afterward, especially the new bridge across the river, which he hoped would be an icon of the city.

“This whole area can be in that vein,” Ballard said. “And I think we’ll take [the recommendations] to heart.”


  • Very Sad
    We should not be turning our factories into condos. We should be figuring out how to update retool and make them profitable creating jobs. The government only admits to a 9% unemployment rate while the real numbers are closer to 20-25% its time to stop living in a fantasy never never land and start dealing with the root of the real issues. We need jobs and we need manufacturing to create those jobs. Our country is broke and close to following in the steps of the former Soviet Union. WAKE UP AMERICA!!!
  • http://www.facebook.com/IndySQUARED
    I'd LOVE to be apart of the brainstorming sessions! I'm all about HIP & FUNKY and I LOVE the adaptive reuse of these old factories. ;)
  • @Paco the Taco...
    I'd like to know where these condos for 20-30 year olds are? Because I'm at the higher end of that range, single, and there are not condos out there that support the average 20-30 year old salary. I'm making close to $55K. And that would mean finding a condo between 130K-160K and they don't exist, unless you want to live in a tin can. We need more condos that don't have to be fully luxuary - let the owner upgrade over time. We need condos in the Sub $160K range for these new young professionals.
  • let's go
  • Palladium II
    If they are "making money hand over fist," why are multi $millions being demanded to keep the thing afloat?
  • Impressed
    I, for one, am quite impressed with the creativity of this proposed project. The downtown housing market continues to show strength and projects like this are absolutely vital to building the population of the central city. I don't see what on earth this would have to do with other "home builders" going out of business... face it, most of them are going out of business because they continue to glut the market with subpar construction. That bridge, by the way, demonstrates the forward thinking architecture we so often clamor for here on these boards....

      Just what we need another union station or circle center mall! You know all those people you create jobs for are just going to turn around and loose them as the stores close. We should not be building malls. We have a ton of malls! We need our jobs back from china all of them. All our manufacturing. These are the important things we should worry about as I for one would never go to a mall to shop when I cant decide if I should eat, pay rent, or keep my smarty phone turned on or shop in your brand spanking new mall!

    • redeveloping for who?
      Love the bridge design, but lets be real, we need jobs, not more housing. People can talk about the feds wasting money, but we have our own money dump here and it's going to lobbyist and developers.
      • Move on from Manufacturing
        Really? Isn't it time to move on from manufacturing? That's why the plant is empty in the first place. Sorry, those jobs are gone forever.
      • Palladium II
        We can build another Palladium. The one in Carmel is playing to sold out crowds, they must be making money hand over fist.
        • Monorail Costs
          Granted, these cost estimates come from a Light Rail proponent site, but this might be where the 140M/Mile cost come from: http://www.lightrailnow.org/myths/m_monorail001.htm

          Personally, this seems like a great area to expand the zoo. I think a world-class zoo (like the Columbus Zoo in Ohio) would boost the image of the city.
        • GM Plant
          the children can frolic in leaded soil. recall the site across from national starch? the former TRW plant is still a vacant lot due to contamination.
        • NUTS
          With rail access and I-70 next-door I can't imagine a better location for manufacturing. Now Indy tax payers must spend countless millions on nutty ideas. The site is great for manufacturing and would still be used for manufacturing if not for the UAW workers who chose to close the plant. There are thousands of vacant homes and numerous other neighborhood projects presenting superior residential options throughout Indy. Get JD Norman or another manufacturing company to occupy the plant and create jobs in the heart of the Indy. No more NUTTY ideas.
          • problem
            this would not have been a problem if the UAW hadn't been so hard nose. Times are changing and the only reason anyone should have a Union is for the pay and Benefits. They should NOT be able to tell an employer who can buy the plant or who they can fire. The union is like a defense lawyer they only defend the the bad employees at the expense of a good worker and in turn they turn a good worker into a bad one!
          • Jobs or Jails
            I don't think they thought "big" enough. We have three jails right next to the core of downtown currently, and I believe they are a significant impediment to redevelopment there.

            Why not use a part of this site for a new "Marion County Justice Center" incorporating courts, PD, prosecutor, and jails? That would be a natural draw for lawyers to locate within walking distance and would "jumpstart" private redevelopment with public investment.

            Additionally, a Washington Street rail line (airport to east side) could serve the site.

            Finally, while some non-jail housing would also be desirable, the current freight rail line cannot be removed (it serves coal trains that feed the Citizens Thermal steam plant). With proximity to interstate and rail, why not really go after some manufacturing or logistics (job-creating) uses for any part of the site that can't be cleaned up to residential standards?
          • Nice, but Seriously????
            I just don't understand all of the development in Indy and Carmel of these new giant mixed-use facilities when home builders are going out of business and we are glutted with vacant/abandonded properties. Shouldn't something be done about that first?
          • Sort of sad
            My opinion is the committee got it all wrong. There are tons of condos available for 20 and 30 somethings downtown. Mass Ave and fountain square have plenty of a office space available for start up ad agency or law firms. This study is basically saying "lets build more of what we already have plenty of." I would tell the mayor: let's focus on re-engergizing existing neighborhoods rather than build one out of thin air.
            • Expansion
              Why not turn it into a massive entertainment area!! I mean that is what downtown is missing is something that people from all over the country can come to have a great time!!
            • monorail???
              Seriously, an entire streetcar system to connect with downtown could be built for half of that. On top of that, the proposal doesnt lay out an entirely urban design. Where is the transit planning mixed with this land use plan?
            • Playgrounds on an Industrial Site?
              Somebody better ask IDEM. A 90-year old industrial facility will require extensive environmental remediation to be approved for residential use. I doubt GM has set aside enough funds ($3.7M) to clean the place up to residential standards.
            • Excited
              I'm very excited about the potential for this site to help propel Indy into a proper river-respecting city. The bridge (and waterfront) could be really great and I'm glad to read Ballard is excited about it.

              I'm also glad to read elsewhere they recommend extending White River State Park.

              I'd like to see more housing density than what they've proposed, but other than that, the vision is pretty great.

              Great job to the team, former Mayor Hudnut and Mayor Ballard.


              As an aside, I'm also confused about the 150 mil a mile quote for the monorail. That sounds WAY high. But it's also not the right kind of transit to connect downtown Indy anyway, so I'm glad that idea didn't make it too far. (I certainly support a robust rail system throughout downtown, just not using the technology of the monorail. But I digress.)

            • Wow...
              Monorail should not cost 140M/mile (it is a very nice monorail.) If your building a new roadway bridge anyways, you might as well drop the mono to grade. That would help lower costs, but there are better places the rail could go. The site will just need to have adequate bus service(like all of Indy Metro deserves.)
            • 140 million?!?!?!
              "But, at a cost of $140 million per mile, the commission overruled him."

              Are they using solid gold to make the rail out of?...Monorail technology is over 50 years old. It's not THAT expensive! How did they get the 140 MILLION DOLLARS PER MILE estimate???

              Someone is SERIOUSLY in someone elses pocket here....

            • ballpark
              We'd better set aside part of this site for the next baseball stadium replacement. Victory Field is in the path of progress for a future convention center expansion. If history is a guide Victory Field will be needed within 20 years and this site would make a suitable substitute.

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            1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these people....do you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

            2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

            3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

            4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

            5. I remain amazed at the level of expertise of the average Internet Television Executive. Obviously they have all the answers and know the business inside and out.