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Fix-up list is long as Indianapolis prepares for 2012 Super Bowl

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Eyesores galore
  Some less-than-appealing areas are slated for makeovers before the 2012 Super Bowl, but others are not.
Rollover locations for more details
Citizens Thermal Energy steam plant

Location: 350 S. West St.
Ownew: Citizens Energy Group
What's being done: Citizens has no
  plan to make cosmetic improvements
  to smokestacks or other parts of the
  plant northwest of Lucas Oil
  Stadium. Metal siding was installed
  in recent years to cover metal
  structures on east end of plant to
  stop birds from roosting.
Commercial/industrial sites near stadium
Location: 400-600 blocks of South
  Missouri Street and nearby area
Owner: various
What's being done: Businesses
  such as Jobsite Supply, which were
  situated long before Lucas Oil
  Stadium was built, did not respond
  to inquiries about potential aesthetic
  improvements to unattractive
  cinder-block buildings.
Corrugated metal siding
Location: one-third mile area between
  West and Meridian streets, just north
  of South Street.
Owners: Citizens Energy Group,
  Capitol Improvements Board and
  city of Indianapolis
What's being done: no plans for
  decorating or removing siding on the
  south ends of Citizens' steam plant,
  Indiana Convention Center or train
  shed at Union Station
Former Market Square Arena site
Location: 300 E. Market St.
Owner: city of Indianapolis
What's being done: Dusty, gravel
  parking area since MSA was
  demolished nearly a decade ago will
  be paved this spring in $800,000
  project to include landscaping.
Former Bank One processing center
Location: northwest corner of
  Washington and East streets
Owner: Milhaus Development
What's being done: Indianapolis-
  based Milhaus is awaiting
  finalization of an agreement with
  city to start work this summer on a
  $65 million apartment project.

Imagine you’ve never been to Indianapolis.

You haven’t walked along the downtown canal on a summer evening, mesmerized by the skyline reflecting on the water. You’ve not meandered Monument Circle or one of the nation’s top downtown malls, Circle Centre.

All you know is you’ve just flown into a fancy new airport terminal and as you drive toward downtown on Interstate 70 the scenery is deteriorating. A 1950s-era house facing the highway near Holmes and McCarty has a blue tarp over a damaged wall and appears to have a deer stand nailed to its roof.

Exiting toward downtown on West Street, you pass a row of industrial buildings, paint peeling from their cinder-block walls. And what’s that long ribbon of corrugated metal obstructing your view of downtown? It must be someone’s interpretation of the Berlin Wall, applied to historic Union Station’s train shed.

Imagine these aesthetic abominations as your first impression of the city, and you’ll get some idea of the challenge facing image-conscious civic leaders ahead of next February’s Super Bowl at Lucas Oil Stadium.

IPL Citizens Energy Group’s steam plant (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)
The millions watching on TV will get an NFL-approved take of the city that could make Peoria look like Paris. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of visitors will arrive in a northern city at the ugliest time of year.

“Indianapolis in February,” Keep Indianapolis Beautiful President David Forsell said in classic understatement, “can be kind of gray and dark.”

IBJ asked a handful of urban experts to point out some eyesores and suggest fixes—or at least how to make the best of them.

Forsell, who also sits on the Indianapolis Super Bowl Committee’s subcommittee on beautification, said some of the city’s brightest minds will soon take up the question, but he stopped short of discussing details.

IndianapolisFormer Bank One processing center area (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Trash and clutter could be cleaned up, he said. In October, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Eli Lilly and Co. and the Indiana Department of Transportation led a massive landscaping and public art project along key I-70 interchanges between downtown and Indianapolis International Airport. The art includes brightly colored, mushroom-like pods.

“The notion of public art is that it creates interest and conversation,” Forsell said. “I think vibrancy is going to be critical.”

Maybe vibrancy will cure the scourge of corrugated metal.

Urban blogs such as hustonstreetracing.com wax contemptuous with comments about the cream-colored steel siding on the south end of Union Station’s train shed.

The effect is multiplied by the steel siding on the south end of the recently expanded Indiana Convention Center, which unfortunately faces Lucas Oil Stadium, noted Brad Beaubien, director of Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning, downtown.

The color is more muted than that on Union Station, but “it’s also a steel shed” effect, Beaubien said.

Indianapolis Downtown Inc. President Tamara Zahn said the metal has been identified as a décor element that could be addressed. When the new stadium opened its massive doors, people inside suddenly discovered the train platform was part of a whole new sightline.

What to do with it? Some observers suggest painting it with a mural.

That or, theoretically, perhaps remove the train-shed siding, said Aaron Renn, a former Indianapolis resident now living in Chicago and author of one of the nation’s leading urban policy websites, Urbanophile.com; it depends on what’s beneath the siding.

Indianapolis’ affinity for the trailer park look on its southern flank also can be seen a little farther west—a curtain of corrugated siding on Citizens Energy Group’s steam plant.

It was put up a couple of years ago to cover steel gantries where birds roosted (and went potty), said Citizens spokesman Dan Considine.

IPL rendering Ball StateCitizens Energy Group's downtown steam plant doesn't need to look gritty. (Rendering Courtesy Lohren Deeg, assistant professor of urban planning, Ball State University )

As for the plant’s towering smokestacks, Renn said “a coat of paint could do wonders.” He noted how dashes of color on the first-level entrance of the Minton Capehart Federal Building downtown helped break up its monolithic character.

Renn and Beaubien are bullish on the steam-belching plant, which harkens to the city’s industrial heritage.

“I actually love that look. It’s the … Baltimore Camden [Yards] look,” Beaubien said, adding that clever lighting would compliment its architecture.

Considine said Citizens plans no aesthetic modifications, but admitted company insiders have joked about painting the smokestacks to resemble goal posts.

Playing up positives

Downtown has numerous positives, Beaubien and Renn say, with Renn going so far as to say the Wholesale District south of Washington Street holds its own against just about any comparable downtown district.

Downtown has been polished over the years for big events such as the Final Four, countless conventions and the Indianapolis 500.

But Beaubien points out that Pan Am Plaza, which was built for the 1987 Pan American Games, is now a “cancer of a crumbling plaza.”

Zahn pointed to numerous improvements under way downtown, including Georgia Street, which links the convention center with Conseco Fieldhouse and will serve as a staging area for Super Bowl events.

IDI is testing wintertime concepts for its 200 planters and nine garden beds downtown. For example, it hired a contractor to plant evergreen shrubs in one of its flower beds in front of the Borders bookstore at Washington and Meridian streets.

The shrubs smell good and are interspersed with decorative metal spikes that look like the back lot of “Edward Scissorhands.” Artsy. But will drunken fans impale themselves? Best to assess that now.

Soon, IDI will send e-mails asking for feedback—what works and what doesn’t, what can withstand the cold and what can’t, and what’s most appropriate for particular areas.

In the winter before the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit, organizers conducted winter festivals to see if people would even come to its downtown. The city ended up hosting a winter carnival featuring ice skating, snow slides and sled dog races. Bands played and food was served in heated tents. Tours of a Ford Motor Co. factory and the city’s museums were arranged.

“The Super Bowl is not what most people think it is,” said Susan Sherer, who was executive director of Detroit’s Super Bowl Committee. “It’s so much more than a game. Think of it like a party in your house.”

Stadium neighborhood

And then there are the neighborhoods near Lucas Oil Stadium.

Around long before the stadium was built three years ago, the area is a hodgepodge of industrial buildings and an outdoor yard where metal and industrial parts are stored.

“The real issue is, we stuck the stadium in a developing part of town,” Beaubien said. “It’s definitely not a pedestrian-inviting atmosphere.”

City spokesman Marc Lotter said the South Street area near the stadium is slated for road and sidewalk improvements this year. He added that the city also can pursue code violations, but “when you’re dealing with private property owners, we’re limited.”

Beaubien said not to discount the potential of businesses swelling with civic pride as the Super Bowl nears and getting into the spirit. He also wonders whether a pool of funds could be created to help pay for façade improvements. Such a fund was created in Detroit.

Attacking blight

The city is depending on a private developer to tackle one of the biggest blighted areas downtown—the former Bank One processing center at Washington and East streets, a squat, graffiti-covered building surrounded by a squatter-resistant chain-link fence.

indianapolisStretch of Kentucky Avenue (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Though several blocks from upcoming Super Bowl events, the site would be visible to those coming downtown via the new Washington Street interchange at the I-65/I-70 split.

The property is held by Indianapolis-based Milhaus Development, which in 2009 proposed spending $65 million to build a 600-unit apartment complex on the site.

Milhaus CEO Tad Miller said work will begin on the project when the city resolves issues involving its planned privatization of downtown parking operations. That’s important because Miller would purchase several hundred parking spaces in an adjacent parking garage from the city.

He expects to start this summer: “Something will be going on by the Super Bowl.”

Just west of the former Bank One building is a huge gravel parking lot where Market Square Arena once stood. Later this year, the Capital Improvement Board plans to spend as much as $800,000 to pave the lot and add landscaping.

Still, visitors will pass by two jails on the way down Washington Street and past a crumbling railroad viaduct, an area Renn and Beaubien respectively describe as “horrific” and “challenged.”

Ultimately, though, aesthetic issues might not be worth too much hand-wringing.

Detroit’s Sherer said how Indianapolis residents interact with visitors will leave lasting impressions.

“How people are greeted and sent on their way is super important. What do they see in your house? Is it real or phony? Is your family fighting or together? Do you have a slipcover on your couch to make it look nicer or do you have a whole new couch?”

In the end, she said, “the power of the destination and its people to deliver great hospitality ... will define the experience—rain, snow or shine.”•

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  • areas outside the 465 loup
    I think one thing the city should concentrate is on the areas around the interstates. I took a drive on 70w, 65n, 65 going south. The housing areas along those interstates make our city look very bad. We should put a wall up or better yet fix the housing thats along these interstates. I drove by Dayton Ohio this summer, but never drove through the city. I took the loop around the city and I know what my first impression of the city is, "DIRTY". The sad thing is that our city looks the same around our interstates. South of the Lucas Oil Stadium, there is housing that looks terrible. I really think we should look outside the mile square and concentrate on the mile that is outside of it. We have beautiful downtown but we can't loose focus on the whole city.
  • Pan Am - World Class Skaters
    Just an FYI for those not familiar with the Figure Skating scene in Indianapolis: We have 2 skaters representing USA in the World Jr. Figure Skating Championships in March.

    If / When the Pan Am Plaza and supporting ice area is "fixed", we should take note that we have world class skaters quietly milling away, day after day, adjacent to the "Cancer of a crumbling plaza". Just think what we could do with a modern facility?
  • higway improvements? why bother
    why bother improving visibility along the highway? people fly by at 60 mph, so they don't see much for long. the real estate will never be pretty. it will always be warehousing, distribution, etc. highways are not pretty. give up and focus resources on downtown and neighborhoods. there are no attractive urban highways in this country.
  • Imagine you have never been to Indianapolis
    Imagine you have never been to Indianapolis...

    You see whatever skyline you see, but you aren't here for that. You are here for the big game, the convention, the 500, etc. and a good time! You walk into a bar and are greeted by the nasty smell of chain smoking. You only brought one coat, and now you have to go find a dry cleaner in the morning because you smell like butt. You want to go out and have a good time but your eyes get irritated and your sinuses go nuts when you are in a smokey room. Sounds like a bad foot to put forward for such a convention and visitor centered city.

    Even worse than any esthetic problem our city might have, the smoking problem gives our city the biggest black eye.

    We should fix it.

  • The Cultural Trail
    If only they could find a way to FINISH the cultural trail.
  • I always refer to the Tate Modern Museum in London. An old power plant that was converted into a world class museum. There is something cool about old industrial. A cleaning maybe, but industrial is what it is, and should look like.

    Does anyont know why the sheetmetal was installed on the train shed? If I remember correctly what was there before was the edge of the existing brick train shed. they had demo'd the last couple of bays to allow large loads to traverse through on the tracks, but I think what was there was much better than the sheet metal.

    By catering to the visitor, Indy is a more liveable city for residents than most. It has a strong urban core with a lot of ammenities for visitor and resident alike. Now those improvements are moving out to the neighborhoods as well.

  • Steam Plant
    If the steam plant was cleaned and painted would be the first start. New colors and lighting could be incorporated to enhance its look. Many cities have very unique power plants that architectually are very interesting. Even some type of mural could help.
  • We need the smoking ban so our city doesn't stink like trailer trash
    There needs to be a city wide smoking ban for the super bowl so when all of the people from outside of our city don't have to deal with the smoky bars. Most other cities have smoking bans, and all of the guests to our city will feel like they went back in time to the 90's.

    No matter how nice we make our city look, our nightlife will still smell like old people and cancer. How embarrassing.

  • LIGHT CIRCLE
    Some valid issues and concerns. Above all focus on our positives and no more so than Monument Circle. Why not flood light ALL the buildings. Visually it would be stunning from the street as well as from the air and could be the iconic view of the city.
  • I like the steam plant.
    The steam plant has a lot of character. What is wrong with having a city look like a functioning city? I personally don't think that the stacks should get painted, but they should only be cleaned and subtly lit. It is a city, and cities need steam plants. It's not a secret, and there is no sense in trying to hide it because some snob thinks it's ugly. I think strip malls and the suburbs are much uglier than the steam plant.
  • Improvement
    A real challenge will be to keep the mindset of improvement after the Superbowl is over.
  • Great Point
    The focus in Indianapolis is always on visitors and professional sports teams rather than its citizens. It's too bad that those in power are so short-sighted and into making sure they get their part of the gravy train that they cannot accomplish the nexus that Joe speaks of.
  • but then what.......
    I love the attention the super bowl is bringing to downtown. We have a fantastic urban core and with small improvements we can make it great. I hope an effort is made to think long term. Develop a place that improves the quality of life for residents of Indianapolis. Dont spend millions on something that is going to go away after the game. Work to improve neighborhoods. A stronger housing stock will draw people and reinvestment into schools and civic installations. The cultural trail is already paying dividends and georgia street has a lot of promise. Please focus on us, the residents. we live here, not thousands of people in for the weekend!

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    1. I am so impressed that the smoking ban FAILED in Kokomo! I might just move to your Awesome city!

    2. way to much breweries being built in indianapolis. its going to be saturated market, if not already. when is enough, enough??

    3. This house is a reminder of Hamilton County history. Its position near the interstate is significant to remember what Hamilton County was before the SUPERBROKERs, Navients, commercial parks, sprawling vinyl villages, and acres of concrete retail showed up. What's truly Wasteful is not reusing a structure that could still be useful. History isn't confined to parks and books.

    4. To compare Connor Prairie or the Zoo to a random old house is a big ridiculous. If it were any where near the level of significance there wouldn't be a major funding gap. Put a big billboard on I-69 funded by the tourism board for people to come visit this old house, and I doubt there would be any takers, since other than age there is no significance whatsoever. Clearly the tax payers of Fishers don't have a significant interest in this project, so PLEASE DON'T USE OUR VALUABLE MONEY. Government money is finite and needs to be utilized for the most efficient and productive purposes. This is far from that.

    5. I only tried it 2x and didn't think much of it both times. With the new apts plus a couple other of new developments on Guilford, I am surprised it didn't get more business. Plus you have a couple of subdivisions across the street from it. I hope Upland can keep it going. Good beer and food plus a neat environment and outdoor seating.

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