Insurance firm plans new HQ

August 19, 2008
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McGowan Insurance Group SiteMcGowan Insurance Group plans to build a new 19,000-square-foot headquarters on a triangle-shaped property at 340 N. Capitol Ave. where an ealier proposal called for 30 condos and a bank. The $2.5-million project would be built on a formerly state-owned parking lot between Indiana Avenue, Capitol Avenue and Vermont Street, behind the Bourbon Street Distillery. The city’s Metropolitan Development Commission will consider preliminary approval of a six-year property tax abatement worth about $186,000 at a hearing Wednesday. The company plans to add 13 employees and retain 31 who now work at Market Tower. “We believe in the city, we love this city,� Hugh McGowan, Jr., a senior vice president, told IBJ's Chip Cutter. “We can see that part of downtown maybe developing more and we kind of want to be a spark plug to help it develop.� McGowan explored headquarters options in the suburbs, but decided to stay downtown after the city offered an abatement. Construction is slated to begin in mid-2009. No design has been set, but the building should face both Vermont Street and Indiana Avenue, McGowan said.

UPDATE: The building likely will be about three stories tall, McGowan said. The insurance company bought the property from Hearthview Residential, which earlier had proposed the condo development.
  • Any idea about how tall it will be? I guess almost anything is better than the ugly surface gravel (yes, gravel) parking lot that currently sits there that I walk by every day. Even if it uses the BW3 color scheme...
  • I love what Mr. McGowan said about loving the city, believing in it, and wanting to help spur development. I wish more central Indiana business owners felt the same way.

    But, Mr. McGowan's sentiments are tainted by the fact that what really convinced them to move downtown was a tax abatement.
  • Ablerock,

    I was thinking the same. Does anyone smarter than me know of a website/resource that catalogues all of the city's tax abatements? I believe that sometimes they are necessary, but I'd love to see the numbers on how much revenue the city is giving back.
  • Ablerock,

    McGowan has to say that. If I'm a businessman and I am able to get a tax abatement to help my business profit then I'd be a fool not to take it. So he took the abatement. Now he loves Indianapolis and was probably going to build downtown no matter what, but he doesn't dare bite the hand that feeds him by not claiming that the tax abatement was the primary reason why he stayed in Indianapolis. Because if I'm the city official that helped out this Indianapolis company by approving this tax abatement I'd be pretty pissed and look pretty foolish if McGowan says that he was going to build in downtown Indianapolis even without the abatement.
  • Unless there are unreleased parts of the plan that include ground floor retail, a 19,000 sq.ft. office building on that site is two stories, tops. Two stories, half a block from the second tallest building in Indy. That's is a terrible use of that lot.

    I agree with The Urbanophile's position that, sometimes, NOT building is better than building the wrong thing. It's easier to wait to get the right thing than it is to undo a bad development.
  • McGown Ins. Group is already downtown, renting space at Market Tower.
  • This site is near the canal isn't it? Most buildings in that area are probably not over a few stories themselves. The Burbon Street Bar is on that land as well.......I wonder if it will stay? The area near the canal needs more residential development, that way more business would look into moving to that area.......after 6pm the area is pretty dead...
  • We don’t have enough parking for state employees during legislative sessions as it is, and they sell off a state employee parking lot? Best of all, there wasn’t any communication from the state to let state employees know we couldn’t park there. (Luckily, the new owners were kind enough to provide notices before towing, which they didn’t have to do.)
  • I don't think the city needs surface parking lots for a few months out of the year......if anything, the state should construct it's own parking garage on the parking lot beside the state house.
  • I don't understand what part of the lot they are using? Or are they using that whole piece of land surrounded by Capitol, Indiana, and Vermont?
  • Shane, yes it's near the canal in the northwest quadrant. There aren't too many buildings in the area with any real height so a smaller scale building is appropriate. But at some point I would like to see some larger buildings start to pop up. There are a lot of large surface lots in that area with potential for some nice redevelopment.

    Also, the Cosmopolitan on the canal (5 story development) will be adding more apartments and ground floor retail by spring of '09 so that's a start. I agree with you though abut that area being dead. It's right next to IUPUI, and it's kind of weird that there isn't a more developed night life around there.
  • Tony -- I can't find confirmation of this anymore, but it's NOT the whole triangle. In a rough sense, I think it just cuts across the middle of the triangle from Indiana to Vermont. It definitely doesn't include Bourbon St. or the Musicians' Repair & Sales building (and their parking lot). And I'm pretty certain it also doesn't go all the way south to the point at Indiana and Capitol, but don't quite me on that.
  • I hope it's a very small piece of that land, the whole thing is over 70,000 sq ft by my rough estimation, not accounting for the already developed portion.
  • DRT,

    I almost spit my lunch out all over my monitor when I read your There aren’t too many buildings in the area with any real height comment.

    No offense, but are you blind, or do you just have selective-sight?

    It's across the street from the 2nd-tallest building in Indiana and right on the edge of downtown's business district, which contains every other building of notable height in Indy.

    Short buildings and parking lots on one side does not negate the fact that their are towers on the other side.
  • CorrND - Well, the business owner says that it will face both Indiana and Vermont, but it is located on Capitol, that's what is confusing
  • I'm not a fan of low-rise construction inside the mile square. I feel if you're going to build in there, you should be at elast 8 floors. I just feel that anything less than that is poor land use. Density is what we should be going for here.
  • eh, I'm ok with 3-5 story developments on every surface parking lot in Indianapolis :) Height is cool and all, but connecting districts is a much more important issue to me. Dead zones kill cities.
  • Speaking of dead zones is there any new news on the 960 N. Meridian apartment proposal by Buckingham Properties? I would really like to see this come into fruition!
  • amen, benjamin. skyscrapers are no longer the future of mid-sized american downtowns, as was the popular thinking in the 70's and 80's. the future lies in quality low/mid-rise infill that above all enhance the pedestrian experience - not something that just looks cool from the interstate. i could care less about height - i just want something that brings vibrancy to street level.
  • It is very, very difficult to stop giving out tax abatements once you start. The city basically provides an abatement on every new commercial structure downtown.

    I don't particularly object in this case. However, abatements and other public subsidies should be used to shape the project in a way that benefits the public. In this case, many questions come to mind:

    - 19,000 sq. ft. is a small building. This almost mandates a private surface lot for it. Not good urban form if that's true.

    - The height transition from the CBD core is radical and jarring. It's just like Firehouse Square withing short view of the Bank One Tower, only worse.

    - Yet another single-use office structure in the canal district. These are the reason why the Canal district has never lived up to the vision originally touted for it to be like the San Antonio district. These are black holes after 5pm and put a huge hole in the urban fabric. Zoning in this area should mandate mixed use and/or first floor retail.

    We'll have to see the site plans and renderings, but I don't think this type of low intensity use on that site is something the city would want to actively subsidize.

    How about instead doing something more intense with a mix of retail, office, and residential? That might be worthy of a nice abatement.
  • Regarding height, I'm not necessarily a big fan of high rises in a city like Indianapolis. Because of the requirement for parking, these lead to inefficient land uses and post-5pm black holes in the urban fabric. The AUL building itself is perfect example of this. It takes up an entire city block for one building, doesn't engage the street well, and is mediocre architecturally to boot.

    However, 2-3 stories is pretty small for very close in buildings. A better template is what is being done with buildings like Ralston Square, 707 E. North St, 3Mass, and 429 Penn. These all are true midrise structures, feature correct urban form, have fully enclosed parking, and don't compromise the street life after 5pm. A 5-12 story building would be much nicer IMO.
  • ben, gryros, I agree that street life is the key here. Both parking lots and pure office buildings kill street life for at least a good chunk of the day.

    The Wholesale District and south side of downtown are bustling late into the evening. This activity dies at 5pm once you hit the Great Wall of office towers along Ohio St. The difference north of Ohio and south of Ohio is stunning.

    Much of the Canal district is dead because it is filled with low rise office buildings that take up huge amounts of land and are empty after 5pm. To add insult to injury, the huge surface lots they feature are usually off-limits after 5pm, so they can't even be used by people who want to visit the canal.
  • Why don't they now partner with HEarthview who they bought the land from, and help them design the entire poinbt, and then lease out the rest of the property and development. I'm not opposed to the 3-4 stories in some of the adjacent blocks to canal square it would make it feel more like a neighborhood or a distric in 10-20 years. But once you pass capitol and north of new york and even at a slight angle, we need to have a minimum of 6-8 levels.

    We can have zoning ordinances for a height of a outdoor sign, lets do it for future developments.
  • no a good use of this land
  • Can't say I'm too enthused about this, like to know what some people in charge are thinking.
  • mcGowna's are great people, have been in indy for years. but this is NOT a very big company. 2.5m project?

    Side note: Call Ballard and ask him if he even knows the city's tax abatement rules and guidelines. Seriously.
  • I think it is interesting to hear all of this demand for highrise development when the demand for highrise development in downtown Indianapolis isn't very large.
    We have vacancy problems with the ones we have, and personallu I think 3-6 story development is exactly what the city of Indianapolis needs. Regardless of what we would all like to imagine Indianapolis will never be a city of skyscrapers and condo towers around every corner like Tokyo. MId-rise density is quiet needed for Indianapolis and it's future. I am glad to see this area fill in. I hope the architecture is as tasteful.
  • Personally, if I had the assets to do such, I would move in and offer this firm to participate in a joint-ownership project that would be mixed use. There has to be at least 50-60,000 sq ft. of open space on that piece of land. A 3-story, 15,000 sq. ft. footprint parking garage surrounded by buildings of 5-8 stories with a variety of uses could take up the rest of the space. That would be about 230,000 sq. ft. of floor space after taking out the McGowan space, so I would say about 45,000 sq. ft. of retail space, 45,000 sq. ft. of office space/professional services space, leaving about three or four stories for apartments and condos, maybe a boutique hotel. Maybe 30 condos, 85 apartments, and a small hotel? With the Cosmo going up right up the street, that would bring some serious life to that area.
  • If this indeed the parcel at 340 N. Capitol, then it appears to be appriximately 33,000 s.f. Go to and select a property search by parcel number 1037853.

    A very poor use of the land. Expect a two story building with surface parking covering more than half of the lot, just like in Carmel. Oops, sorry, even Carmel has moved beyond this suburban style of development. Pretty sad.

    Any time the City provides tax abatement, they have a certain amount of leverage to demand better urban design. This reminds one of the two story building Goldsmith proposed where the Conrad now stands. You would think a City hurting for revenue would encourage a higher density design that would generate (eventually) higher tax revenue? Was IDI consulted?
  • Wow, that is a GREAT site. That will help me in my Senate Ave. research project immensely, I don't want to even tell you how I was getting site info before.

    And if this information is true, then this is truly a travesty. But the good news is, this is some thing that 5-10 years down the road could probably be easily acquired, demolished, and forgotten about when a real project is planned for this area.
  • What a terrible use for the site. Like a poster above mentioned, even the suburbs would demand better. And they're getting tax abatements!!!
  • The City's Regional Center Plan recommends High Density Mixed Use for the site.
  • Ablerock,

    How many buildings west of Capitol and north of New York St. are more than 3 stories? There might be one, maybe. Just because there are the massive skyscrapers just east has no bearing on the way this particular area of the city has been developed. I said small scale development was appropriate for the area but I do agree with other posters that a 2 story single use office building with a surface lot is a poor use for the lot. I do, however, think this infill is better than the current gravel parking lot.

    I also hope that trends like Cosmo continue in this area so it can be transformed. Those kind of mid-rises are perfect.
  • DRT -- that's a pretty loaded question. You're basically asking, What buildings in this area almost completely devoid of buildings are over 3 stories? But I'll bite:

    Courtyard: 4 stories
    Canal Overlook: 4 stories
    Cosmopolitan: 6 stories

    And if you expand your area just slightly, the Gibson Building and State Parking Garage are 5 stories. Oh yeah, and OneAmerica is 38 stories, even though everybody wants to discount its importance to the discussion of context.

    I think a reasonable request is that buildings in the area should be a minimum of 4-5 stories, building to 10-ish at the intersection of New York/Capitol/Indiana, a la 3Mass near One Indiana Square.
  • I too think that it would be a great idea to partner with Hearthview (or whomever would be interested) and maybe do three floors of APARTMENTS on top of the 3-story needs of this company. Having a mixed-use structure here will be an asset to the area and add even more people that are expected to arrive with the Cosmopolitan. I am glad to see more development in this area, and basically with prices so inflated in and around Mass Ave, I expect much more in this quad.
  • CorrND,

    It was a rhetorical question. I know there are a few over 3 stories, but my point was that there were no high rises and few mid rises in that area. I agree about wanting to spruce up the area with more of the 4-5 story building types as this allows more living/working/reatil combinations
  • A single-tenant building with growth projected to 45 employees will most likely have at least 45-50 parking spaces. That's about 15,000 square feet of parking, minimum.

    Folks...I'm pretty sure the majority of McGowan's staff members don't live downtown, and I suspect most all drive to work. Whether we like it or not, parking is a requirement. One of the reasons a company moves out of multi-tenant space and builds their own building is to have their own parking lot and avoid ever-increasing rents on both office and parking space.

    Smaller-scale infill on all the available parcels will do one thing over time: raise the value of land enough to justify structured parking. We're starting to see it on the edges of downtown that abut campuses (i.e. the Lilly south edge, the IUPUI west edge, the Methodist/Clarian north edge). I think this probably helps more than it hurts. It's not the Conrad parcel or the MSA's a funny-shaped lot with an old two-story triangle building at the corner (which incidentally has a wraparound deck just like Zing built up the Avenue).
  • The property is adjacent to the property that houses the Bourbon Street Distillery--which is independently/privately owned. My only qualm will be if this building blocks the downtown view offered by one of the most amazing bars in the city. Screw the mixed-use structure. People should be more interested in maintaining the fantastic view offered by the Distillery. Do we really need more apartments or condos? The vacancy rate for downtown apartment/condo dwellings increases every month...just wait until the half-dozen or so downtown residential projects are completed in the next 6-12 months.

    And seriously--if you haven't had the pleasure of visiting the Distillery, you really should give it a try. Great food and great drink specials...and the clientele are always entertaining.
  • Walking in Chicago a couple of weeks ago there are still many 2, 3 and 4 story buildings mixed within the new skyscrapers. I think this works fine. Starting to infill these parking lots is excellent. This area is seen as a transition area and as long as the building has an urban context than I feel this is better than a vast parking lot. Who ever says skyscrapers are the 70's and 80's has not been visting other cities. Pick up any architectural magazine and skyscrapers are still being built all over the country.
  • I thought the vacancy rates for downtown apartments were fairly low.......the apartments along the canal have consistently had a waiting list from the time they've opened.......

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