Preservationists float ideas for reusing City Hall

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An upscale hotel, a brewery or perhaps even an event center.

Those are just a few of the ideas suggested by a group of historic preservationists, urban planners, architects and civic leaders as potential reuses for the old Indianapolis City Hall at 202 N. Alabama St.

As part of the Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference, which runs through Nov. 2, the group Tuesday explored ways to breathe new life into the historic granite-and-limestone landmark.

The building has been vacant for the past six years and last housed the interim Central Library after the Indiana State Museum moved to White River State Park in 2002.

The Metropolitan Development Commission voted Oct. 16 to authorize spending $150,000 from the department’s redevelopment general fund to make the building inhabitable for temporary offices and meeting space—in all about 9,000 square feet.

The $150,000 would cover a laundry list of repairs, including putting chillers in working order and opening three large windows blocked by drywall and masonry, plus a year of cleaning and maintenance.

The city owns the building and splurged for a new roof but doesn’t have the millions of dollars needed to renovate the building. That’s where a private developer might step in to partner with the city and run with one of the reuse plans floated by the historic preservationists.

“I do think it’s realistic,” said Adam Thies, director of the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development. “It’s all about finding and calibrating the right uses with the right costs.”

So detailed were the presentations by the preservationists that several of them included estimates for the total cost of a project, how much would be needed to finance it and how much revenue the idea might generate. The cost for a hotel project, for example, was estimated at $28 million.

Names also came into play. A brewery could be called the Twin Eagle Brewing Co. in recognition of the two eagle sculptures perched near the building's main entrance, one group suggested. Another idea, for a museum, called the Motor Palace, would pay homage to the city's rich racing history and the Indianapolis 500.

Other proposals for the building included an innovation center for startups, an education center that would include a charter school, or simply a government center to ease space concerns at the City-County Building.

Old City Hall opened in 1910 and housed city offices until the arrival of the City-County Building in 1962. It was home to the state museum for about 35 years.

Part of the problem in making the building useable is its design limitations. The building’s most unique feature is the rotunda, topped with stained glass, which makes for a majestic foyer, but creates a lot of empty space across three upper floors.


  • Duesenberg Museum
    It's a Duesy! A catch phrase that started here in Indy for the greatest automobile of all times: Duesenberg. It was built right here and we have turned our back on that part of our heritage. Could you imagine that brand name promoting our city- along with Cole, National, Marmon, Stutz and others built here? Car lovers from Jay Leno to Wayne Carlini (Chasing Classic Cars) would bite on this. Plenty of collectors would loan cars to display at a world class museum. Team it with our racing history, a catering venue, a tourist destination and the potential for rallys, car shows and concours d' elegance events and you have a winner.
  • yeah Jon
    Jon, it is a tough one, otherwise it would be done already. The trouble I have seen with the top notch out-of-towners in charettes, is a broad vision that turns back into local suburban mentality because our developers want a safe and trustworthy excuse to only do what they have done before, and then the administration goes with it to just get it done, i.e. GM plant. Exceptions are the F&C Market Sq. site, et al. We are seeing the younger and more progressive bunch pushing the envelope...i.e Virginia Ave.,etc., and the newer residential developers taking on the older structures downtown, and doing a good job. I'm sure the State would let the parking lot go if the proposal was right, although State real estate laws would have to be danced around. The real feel and appearance of the building is either Government power and authority, or Museum Awe! The museum idea might make the most sense, only because gov't can't really afford it for the long term. Look at how much money our big museums have raised over the last decade or two. A combined (funding and support) new museum concept offering works we don't currently experience locally could maybe work? The only other funding strength has been the Universities that have literally raised billions over the last couple of decades. The 21c idea seems strong, but that building will require massive expenditures to retro fit and to perpetually maintain. It could become a non-jury courts building with a new wing added north in conjunction with a parking garage. Ideas remain slim in current economy and funding? Still wishy-washy.
  • Boutique Hotel
    Greg, A hotel/mixed use space was part of two proposals for the adjacent parking lot, which is still owned by the state, not the city. A land swap was suggested to remedy that. Bark and kent, what might you suggest given the restraints and opportunities of the sight? This was a visioning session with an back of the napkin number built in. Probably one of the most significant gathering of minds from all over the world to give their professional input to the city, for free. So please, offer some suggestions.
    • 21c Please!
      I have said it before, this absolutely should be a 21c. The company has wanted to open an Indy location for several years and this could be made into a similar concept to that of the one in Louisville. Use the existing structure to create a modern museum, then build off a boutique, luxury hotel in the parking lot directly north of it. Throw in a restaurant and you have a great spot to help give a life to a relatively dead area after hours.
      • AB may sue over eagle
        Enough on the local brewery and other trendy short term pipe dreams!...as if real entrepreneurs need yet another freeloading location to avoid real work from. This building is to prominent, too classy, too monumental, and too much of a public building to waste on short term ventures. If we can't come up with a good public use, then we aren't really trying hard enough. Anheuser Busch would probably also sue over the eagle rights. Move the mayor in there and let him and his staff face the street level world!
      • No more breweries
        I shouldn't be surprised that somebody suggested a brewery. Don't. Stop it. Enough with this garbage peewater Indianapolis beer. The market is at saturation.
      • How about...
        a "W" hotel there? There, or in the Illinois building.

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