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New concert venue proposed for GM plant site

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A concert venue rivaling the size of Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville has emerged as the favorite in a bid to redevelop the former General Motors metal-stamping plant on the western edge of downtown.

The proposal from developer REI Investments to build the outdoor amphitheater is getting serious consideration from the entity charged with selling the site, several sources familiar with the discussions told IBJ.

rop-concert-venue-012714-15col.jpg The GM stamping plant opened in 1930 and employed more than 5,000 at its peak. (IBJ file photo)

REI President Mike Wells declined comment, citing a confidentiality agreement with the Michigan-based Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response, or RACER, Trust. The group, with backing from city officials, could announce a decision as soon as February.

“Is it possible we would support [a concert venue]? The answer is yes,” said Deron Kintner, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development.

The three other finalists vying to redevelop the property are Ambrose Property Group, Buckingham Cos. and Keystone Group.

Though details of REI’s proposal are sketchy, sources say the firm has recruited concert promoter Dave Lucas to help with the development. Reached by phone, Lucas declined comment.

Lucas is a heavy hitter in the music industry who adds instant credibility. He and Steve Sybesma founded Sunshine Promotions and developed what is now Klipsch Music Center. Lucas started Live 360 Group after they sold Sunshine Promotions to SFX Entertainment. Clear Channel Communications acquired SFX and in 2005 spun off Live Nation, which now operates Klipsch.

It’s unclear whether the concert venue would take the entire 102-acre GM Stamping Plant site or if REI’s plans contain other uses for the property. Sources say RACER could incorporate a piece of one of the other developers’ proposals in the final version.

Kintner Kintner

If REI is successful, the concert venue would follow the JW Marriott-anchored hotel campus on REI’s list of major downtown projects. It developed the hotel with Merrillville-based White Lodging, helping the city land the 2012 Super Bowl.

REI also partnered with Milhaus to submit a proposal to the city for an 18-story tower to be built on part of the former Market Square Arena site, but the city picked a rival proposal from Flaherty & Collins Properties.

REI’s proposal for an outdoor arena has the support of Indianapolis Downtown Inc.

“A concert venue would be a tremendous asset for downtown,” IDI President Sherry Seiwert said. “I think it would invite an even wider range of visitors and probably help to further improve the image of our downtown and its vibrancy.”

Not everyone onboard

But not everyone is excited about the idea. The GM property sits on the western edge of downtown along White River south of the Indianapolis Zoo—close enough to White River State Park that Executive Director Robert Whitt is worried.

The Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn at White River State Park opened in 2004 and has become one of the more popular entertainment sites in Indianapolis. It has a capacity of 7,500.

whitt Whitt

The venue last year hosted a dozen concerts, ranging from popular acts such as Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers and Carly Rae Jepsen. Whitt is hopeful The Lawn can schedule even more concerts this year and in the future, without facing competition from such a nearby venue.

“I don’t know exactly how it would play off of The Lawn,” he said. “But I have expressed to key decision-makers my concerns about it.”

Chief among his worries is the ability to continue attracting known acts in the shadow of such a large complex. Whitt acknowledged he doesn’t know the size of the proposed amphitheater or any other specifics. But if the decision were up to him, the venue “probably wouldn’t be my first choice” for the site.

“We’ve really built a strong following and we want to continue that,” Whitt said.

A larger downtown center, though, likely would attract wider-known musicians who can fill more seats and are better suited to play big venues such as Klipsch Music Center. Many believe there’s enough room in the metropolitan area for downtown and suburban music centers.

concert-venue-factbox.gifOne of the biggest challenges a large downtown venue could face in that location is getting vehicles in and out of the property, said Abbe Hohmann, president of Site Strategies Advisory LLC.

“Is it the highest and best use for the land?” Hohmann asked. “It’s an interesting choice.”

Building a downtown concert center has been tossed around for years. The original plan for Deer Creek was to be downtown, Kintner noted.

But a slow approval process and opposition from residents derailed the plan.

Demolition next step

RACER selected the four finalists from a pool of 12 developers on a local, regional and national scale that it invited in August to submit bids for redevelopment.

Plans from Ambrose and Buckingham primarily are mixed-use developments with office, residential and retail components, while the proposal from Keystone contains plans for a soccer stadium where his Indy Eleven soccer team could play.

Like REI, the other three finalists have been involved in high-profile local projects.

RACER said it won’t divulge the winning developer until it signs a contract.

“It’s very difficult for me to predict with any certainty a date when that will occur,” said Bruce Rasher, RACER’s redevelopment manager. “But it should be sooner rather than later.”

The criteria RACER is considering in selecting a developer includes the price one is willing to pay for the property, how many jobs the proposal might create, and the reputation of the developer.

The GM plant opened in 1930 and employed more than 5,000 at its peak.

Denney Excavating Inc. in Indianapolis has been awarded the contract to demolish the facility. RACER is in the process of getting the necessary approvals for demolition, which should be finished by the end of the year, Rasher said.•
 

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  • now someone is thinking
    tollaly agree. give the zoosome exspantion room where the lawn is. the lawn does 10-12 shows a year. the zoo could use it year round.
  • Great!!!
    can't wait for this to open. those trains are even closer to the lawn,and they have survived. who said anything about tax payers money??don't look in the mouth of a free horse.
  • Any Idea
    how much they're going to want in taxpayer support for this venture?
  • “Is it possible we would support [a concert venue]? The answer is yes,” said Deron Kintner, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development.
    Really? I guess you forgot Mr. "Deputy Mayor of Economic Development," there are rail road tracks that run beside that area, so do you mean to tell me that this won't disrupt a concert? It seems like Indianapolis development can't get dumber and dumber, but it turns out it can. By the way Deputy Mayor, what do you tell those residents that live right across from the GM plant, to deal with it or get lost? How about start constructing Market Sq. part 1 & 2 and that "supposed" transit center that was going to be build across from the city county building? Actually focus on building what's needed then dream later! You're not Grant Park in Chicago!!
    • Progress
      It is called progress people. Quit being so negative. The sky is not falling. I like a DT concert, and I also like the idea of the zoo expanding along with mixes retail. An aquarium/zoo expansion would be awesome. Just make it better than Newport Aquarium if they go that route. Why not they poached our casino strategy, why not stick it to Cincy area tourism.
    • Awesome
      I think this is an amazing idea. This would mean a place for world class music within walking distance to all the downtown hotels. And it would be an additional asset for all the people moving back into the city. We don't need more planned apartments/condos. Bring in such assets and market rate condos and apartments will follow.
    • Huh?
      Terrible idea.
    • BR Garage
      Millions in city support for a garage in wrong location and no one uses the parking.
    • New to BR
      The parking garage is a bust because it was basically handed to one of Mayor Ballard's cronies (Keystone) at the taxpayers' expense, and because NOBODY is parking there. I would like to publicly challenge the IBJ to obtain and publish some of the monthly reports that Keystone provides the City regarding number of cars parked there. There have been some days when there were only a dozen cars parked there when I checked!!!
    • Combine ideas
      Seems like the combined soccer stadium and concert venue is a better idea than just a concert venue. The city could attract a wider variety of events to the venue and get more use out of the space, leading to more spending and tax revenue. It would also allow The Lawn to remain viable by taking smaller shows and shows when there are soccer games.
    • Someone please explain this
      Urban Dweller, why has the parking garage on College been a bust? Not trying to call you out - I actually 100% agree with you on the GM plant proposal - but people mention the garage all the time on these message boards and I don't know why. Seems to have decent tenets, and it provides much better infill then what was there before.
    • tax base
      We are focused too much on visitors, this city has a tremendous present and looming issue of lack of tax base to support safety and other quality of life issues. Housing would add to property and income tax base . We do not need to rush on final use. The city pushed/rushed on the parking garage at college and Westfield Blvd and that has turned into a real dude.
    • Win-win
      I think this project is very interesting especially if they could fold The Lawn at White River into it...then the landlocked zoo could expand to where the lawn is now using the Old Washington St pedestrian bridge as a connector. We'll have to see how this shakes out.
      • Don't Do It
        If this would be an open air venue it would be used 6 months out of the year and acres and acres of asphalt for parking. Please don't waste this opportunity to develop it properly. Maybe the zoo could purchase part of it and expand with a walkway over Washington Street, midrise building with housing and some retail. We don't want or deserve to have valuable property site empty half the year, but then again we all know the new soccer stadium will be built there with taxpayers footing the bill.
      • RE: What are you talking about??
        I believe Terry is referring to the proposal a few years ago to keep the plant open but offering lower wages that the UAW local rejected.
      • Not again
        At some point, we need to stop pretending that tourism, conventions and entertainment can save Indianapolis. This city is in worse shape now than it was 30 years ago when Hudnut started all this nonsense. We are on the verge of economic collapse, as everyone who can vacates the city for the far exurbs. Just another scheme to pour tax money into a private venture that could not make it if it had to raise the funding itself. Wake up, Indianapolis. This isn't working.
      • What are you talking about??
        What does the Union have to do with this complex? GM sold this property to an old GM shell company to dispose of and remediate. They are in the process of finding a buyer for the property. If the buyer says I want to make cars there then of course they wouldn't tear the building down, but if a soccer stadium or concert facility, offices, etc.. go there then everything has to go and be cleaned up.
      • Excellent Use Proposal
        What a great idea for land that sits idle, thanks to the lack of vision by the UAW Union.

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