EDITORIAL: North of South project worth the risk

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IBJ Editorial

Barring further weather delays, the City-County Council should decide Feb. 7 if the massive North of South mixed-use project planned for 10 acres just north of the Eli Lilly and Co. corporate campus will proceed.

We understand the concern expressed by some on the council over the city’s role in financing the $155 million project, but there are compelling reasons to approve it.

Among them is Lilly’s involvement. North of South would be developed primarily on Lilly-owned surface parking lots at Delaware and South streets and is championed by a partnership of Indianapolis-based Lilly, the city, the YMCA and Buckingham Cos.—the local developer working with Lilly on the project.

The project would feature a boutique hotel, retail space, upscale apartments and a YMCA. Lilly sees it as a way to bridge the gap between its corporate campus and downtown proper with amenities that it says will facilitate recruiting and retaining employees.

The project also might be a draw for Rolls-Royce Corp., which is considering moving 2,500 employees to 465,000 square feet of space vacated by Lilly last year just blocks from the potential development.

North of South is to be financed with an $86 million city-backed loan, a $6 million grant from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., $29 million in land donated by Lilly, $18 million from the YMCA and $7 million from Buckingham.

In a perfect world, private projects wouldn’t require government involvement. Banks would lend generously at competitive rates. Building sites wouldn’t come with the challenges often associated with urban development.

But that isn’t the world we live in. Little of what we recognize today as downtown Indianapolis would exist without the city’s 40-year history of taking calculated risks to spur development. There would be no vibrant mix of retail, hospitality and sports offerings—just a blighted core that could conceivably drag down the economy of the entire region.

If you believe, as we do, that the public-private partnership model has been a success, there’s little to recommend abruptly abandoning it with North of South.

The impetus for the project is Lilly, which is arguably the city’s most important corporate citizen. It employs thousands here, it’s a linchpin in the region’s life sciences economic development strategy and its stock fuels the generous Lilly Endowment Inc. Add Rolls-Royce to the mix and you have two of the city’s largest corporate employers as advocates for the project.

Not to mention that their proximity to North of South gives it a built-in market, lessening the risk associated with guaranteeing the loan.

The council’s committee on economic development was to have considered the financial package at a special meeting Feb. 4 that was called after its Feb. 2 meeting was canceled because of the ice storm. Provided the committee approved the measure, the full council should act on that recommendation and grant final approval.•


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