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Developer envisions $20M farming operation to replace plant

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A local entrepreneur is laying the groundwork for a $20 million transformation of a soon-to-close automotive plant into a sustainable farming operation that would raise fish and hydroponic vegetables.

Alex Carroll, who co-owns Lifeline Data Centers, envisions an operation turning out striped bass and butterhead lettuce instead of hydraulic steering components at the 160-acre property at Shadeland and English avenues on the east side of Indianapolis.

He's talking about his ideas with city officials and the property owner, Automotive Components Holdings, which is managed by Ford Motor Co.

The plant is scheduled to close for good April 30, after which Automotive Components Holdings will begin a months-long process to dispose of equipment and assess any environmental damage, said Della DiPietro, a company spokeswoman. The property would then go up for sale.

Carroll's proposed plant transformation, which he said would cost about $20 million, would turn the outdated 1.8-million-square-foot manufacturing facility into a showcase for aquaponic agriculture. In aquaponics, water used to raise fish is recycled to grow vegetables, which soak up nutrients from fish byproduct. Then the water is used to raise more fish. There's no need for soil.

"This is the wave of the future," Carroll explained, noting that traditional farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed a fast-growing population. "It is how farming is going to move forward."

Carroll cautioned that his proposal is "very theoretical" at this point. But he has experience reusing blighted properties in the area: He's one of two partners leading the conversion of the former Eastgate Consumer Mall into a high-tech data center and office space.

Deputy Mayor Michael Huber called the idea "intriguing" but said the city would need to get a better handle on the industry and proposed business model before offering support for the proposal.

Carroll is confident there's plenty of demand for the food his operation could produce: striped bass, rainbow trout or salmon, along with butterhead lettuce, peppers and spinach, depending on the season.

"There's phenomenol demand," said Carroll, who serves on the board of the Indiana Aquaculture Association. "It way outstrips productivity."

The farming operation would employ about 100 people, he said. It would reuse the existing building and would not require disturbance of any potential environmental hazards underground.

The automotive plant has just 150 employees left, down from more than 1,000 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ford is phasing out the hydrolic steering systems the plant builds in favor of electric power steering.

The plant, which opened in 1957, has been targeted for closing since 2006, but the plant's workers won reprieves thanks to union concessions and a delay in Ford's rollout of power steering across all of its vehicles.

The reuse plans have neighbors hopeful the massive property won't sit vacant for as long as the former Eastgate mall, said Cathie Carrigan, who lives in Irvington Terrace and serves as a coordinator of the neighborhood watch group.

The idea of buying produce grown in her neighborhood is exciting to Carrigan and her neighbors, who already succeeded in convincing the local Marsh to carry hydroponic tomatoes, albeit ones grown outside the U.S.

"This would be such a creative reuse of space and infrastructure," Carrigan said. "It's fantastic."

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  • Look into the background of this developer
    The city is looking at going into another deal with this guy?? Someone is getting a kickback!!! Look at his history and his disastrous project to milk the city for Millions for an unacceptable Emergency Operations Center...and Police district.This guy just employs through Craigslist and says he has "qualified" labor trades....not quite...this guy is unbelievable. Go back to goats...
  • Involvement
    Alex Carroll, Indianapolis is a great location for such a venture. I am a current Ball State Architecture student, soon to be grad, and I am an advocate for aquaponics as the farming of the future. Although my studies involve subjects more geared toward design, I find my free time is spent understanding this alternative and more sustainable form of agriculture. I would love to work for you and share in my knowledge, as well as learn how to work hands on with such a large scale facility.
  • Lifeline Data/Eastgate Ideas
    May I have permission to offer ideas and proposals for your new project as well as refurbishing the exteror at the former Eastgate?
    Please contact me for ideas and proposals regarding custom signage,awnings,canopies,and LED electronic message signs.
    Trades:
    10430 Exterior Signage Including LED Electronic Message Signage
    10440 Interior signage-Illuminated
    10530 Awnings

    Please contact me if you have any questions or instructions.
    Respectfully,
    Charles Hunt
    United Sign And Awning
    1857 Shelby Street
    Indianapolis,IN 46203
    Fax 317-784-6142
    PH 317-784-6120 ext 13
    charleshunt@usadv.net


  • Great concept
    Aquaponics is a great concept for Indianapolis. I have been trying to start a tilapia aquaponics farm for the past year, but space and capital keep holding me back. It's good to see this idea come to life using existing warehouse space.
  • Eastgate
    Hello All. My name is Alex Carroll and one of the owners of Eastgate. I understand the frustration of people concerning the outside apperance, but please keep in mind that we have spent over $15 million on interior renovations that had to be in place first. The outside renovation is taking place this year. We should have the exterior of the building renovated, painted and landscaped by fall 2012.
    • Maybe, but...
      I think finding a good reuse for the plant would be awesome. And who doesn't want to buy quality, local food? But...and this is a big but...I am really sick of looking at the outside of the data center as is. I think he needs to finish that project (quickly) before he starts a new one.
    • Old Ford Plant
      I know that I would buy fresh produce and fish if it were available. I worked at the plant and happen to live down the street from the site. It would be awesome to see it turn into something good for the environment and the community surrounding it. I would love to drive by everyday and see something other than the sadness that it has become.
    • Rick said...
      Rick said "flounder"! LOL
    • Hydrodream
      This sounds interesting, although is this another pipe dream like the Eastgate site? We had been waiting for the complete and thorough Demolition of the exhausted, ugly, dilapidated, out of date, and basically unrepairable former Eastgate mall site for quite some time until Lifeline Data came in and made claims of redevelopment. Years later it unfortunately still looks like an abandoned eyesore waitng for the wrecking ball! Of course with new city investments within the structure for emergency communications, etc., we appearantly will not see its demolition, as we so hoped for! Good luck to the waterborne farming proposal as the weeds grow and the pavements crumble throughout the site. At least this location is not as visible as Eastgate!
    • Poor plant
      My dad retired from Ford at that plant back in the late 80's after 30+ years there. It was sad to see it flounder into Visteon and now whatever it is. What a shame.
      • reCAPTCHA is Annoying
        Interesting concept, although I would hope we could get more employment density than 100 jobs. A Ball State design student explored the same idea for the old GM site. http://www.nd20.org/?p=863

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      1. PJ - Mall operators like Simon, and most developers/ land owners, establish individual legal entities for each property to avoid having a problem location sink the ship, or simply structure the note to exclude anything but the property acting as collateral. Usually both. The big banks that lend are big boys that know the risks and aren't mad at Simon for forking over the deed and walking away.

      2. Do any of the East side residence think that Macy, JC Penny's and the other national tenants would have letft the mall if they were making money?? I have read several post about how Simon neglected the property but it sounds like the Eastsiders stopped shopping at the mall even when it was full with all of the national retailers that you want to come back to the mall. I used to work at the Dick's at Washington Square and I know for a fact it's the worst performing Dick's in the Indianapolis market. You better start shopping there before it closes also.

      3. How can any company that has the cash and other assets be allowed to simply foreclose and not pay the debt? Simon, pay the debt and sell the property yourself. Don't just stiff the bank with the loan and require them to find a buyer.

      4. If you only knew....

      5. The proposal is structured in such a way that a private company (who has competitors in the marketplace) has struck a deal to get "financing" through utility ratepayers via IPL. Competitors to BlueIndy are at disadvantage now. The story isn't "how green can we be" but how creative "financing" through captive ratepayers benefits a company whose proposal should sink or float in the competitive marketplace without customer funding. If it was a great idea there would be financing available. IBJ needs to be doing a story on the utility ratemaking piece of this (which is pretty complicated) but instead it suggests that folks are whining about paying for being green.

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