Top priority for new IDI boss: Fixing Georgia Street mess

August 7, 2012
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Georgia Street messSherry Seiwert has plenty on her plate as she takes over this week as president of Indianapolis Downtown Inc., but her first priority has to be Georgia Street.

The $12.5-million, stimulus-funded streetscape project is looking ragged despite weeks of maintenance work this summer after taking a Super Bowl beating, and it has lost, rather than gained, outdoor dining options.

Let's start with what's obvious to anyone who has walked the street: The materials Ratio chose for the project were wrong. The wooden boardwalk is badly discolored, the concrete pavers have been permanently stained by motor oil and traffic bollards seem to bend over with a stiff breeze. Indianapolis Downtown Inc., which is charged with maintaining and programming the stretch, should consult with the Cultural Trail team on replacement materials that will better stand up to traffic.

The poor condition of the pedestrian walkway isn't the only problem. The project's great promise was that it would drive street-level activity including sidewalk dining. So far, it has done the opposite.

Both Harry & Izzy's and Mikado—the two largest such operations before the revamp—have shut down sidewalk seating. Though the proprietors declined to discuss the decision in detail, people familiar with the dispute say it centers on a decision by IDI to ask restaurants to sign five-year leases charging per square foot to use the space (unlike the flat permitting fee levied in other parts of the city). IDI also is requiring restaurants take legal responsibility for the space year round. In other words, the restaurants would be liable for winter-time accidents even when they're not serving grub on the sidewalk.

The rent alone—about $3 per square foot per year, or about $1,600 per year for a patio space as large as that of Harry & Izzy's—is less of an issue than the multi-year commitment and liability requirement. The rent money will go toward maintenance.

"The positive side is everybody wants to see us have a patio, no one more than we do," said Jeff Smith, the operating partner at Harry & Izzy's. "It's gotta work for both sides. We're confident we can get it worked out."

IDI's Georgia Street manager did not immediately return a phone message this morning.

On the bright side for Georgia Street, The Pub has added a small outdoor seating area, Kilroy's continues to serve customers on a patio and Hooter's has applied for permits to build a raised outdoor dining area.

And IDI today announced plans for Second Thursdays on Georgia Street, beginning Thursday, Aug. 9, and featuring activities from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. This week's event will feature performances by Drum Corps International, a Colts field goal challenge and cornhole and hula hoop tournaments.

Programming is important, of course. But Georgia Street also needs its marquee restaurants to offer outdoor dining. And it needs a Plan B on materials. Will IDI hold the architect, contractors or suppliers accountable for the street's poor condition?

Of the sustainable tropical hardwoods used in the boardwalk, Ratio says on its blog: "Their longevity and durability withstand harsh conditions, require minimal maintenance, and weather beautifully."

Except, apparently, in the case of Georgia Street.

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  • Boards on Boardwalk
    Please understand that the boards chosen for the Boardwalk would have weathered well, but they were coated with antislip materials right before Super Bowl. It turns out that they were VERY slippery when there was dew, frost, ice, snow, etc. Something had to be done, and for safety, and sand base with a top coat of clear material was painted on to protect the customers for the winter. Now, they will permanently fix it, some way or another.
  • Sidewalk Dining
    No restaurant is going to accept liability for injuries suffered by pedestrians (non-customers) slipping on ice.
  • what about the canal?
    We already have a natural pedestrian destination in Indy that's poorly planned and under-served-- ie., the Canal. How can we expect them to get it right with Georgia Street the second time around after failing to plan and zone accordingly for the Canal? A missed opportunity to rival the likes of San Antonio river Walk and Baltimore Inner Harbor. What's missing here-- is it brains or willpower?
    • Not the Cultural Trail Again!
      All this sounds as expected and somewhat predicted by some of us, except the very idea of bringing in the Cultural Trail consultants! The last thing we need is another redundant cultrual trial design on G. Street. There are a few other very experienced landscape architects in town besides the CT designers. They have done enough, and their designs will continue to show some issues as the cars collide with the trail, as is sure to happen. Many of us predicted the oil staining on white pavers, and the problems with flimsy pedestrian quality bollards, etc. Unfortunately, the tree species will begin to also cause problems a few years down the road. Both the Sycamore and the Bald Cypress are great trees, just not next to pavement, and not away from constant water, like rivers and lakes. Once they become a little larger, they will both drop debris almost 365 days a year! I think IDI must wake up and help the local adjacent businesses become part of the Georgia atmosphere before charging them, as they were there first. Once it works, then more fees could be worth asking for.
      • Pavers
        Save time, money and debate. Pave it back.
      • Seiwert has an opportunity
        The very simple solution here is one that Seiwert is extremely well suited to broker. Tom McGowan, President and COO of Kite, has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Indiana Housing & Community Development Auhtority for her entire career as ED. Kite owns Pan Am Plaza, and if that space can be developed into a destination that utilizes Georgia Street, maybe even builds a roof over it like Fourth Street Live in Louisville, then we might start to find some really amazing uses for the space.
      • Love It
        Glad to see this project finally getting brought down a few notches, as far as i'm concerned it was a good idea with bad design. Besides just the materials there were some huge errors made in its overall design. The placement of the planter beds seems to have been deliberately planned to force people into the vehicular lanes (just try crossing the giant crosswalk from the Convention Center straight across to the board walk, immediately upon crossing the street you run into a planter, the only reason it's currently passable is the "temporary" turf infill) And the giant ugly pole system, come on. Design for the pedestrian scale not the size of your hat at the end of the street. Also, why in the world are the trees planted directly underneath this system. They were entangling one another from day one. Apparently the tree guy and the giant ugly pole guy didn't like to share drawings. Suggestive criticism, when you tear out the Ipe, tear out a few of those planters, they are in the wrong spots. And with the poles, well, just shrink-ray the poles.
      • IBJ Wrote About This Months Ago, Still No Progress!
        Georgia street is a complete mess. Your right, the materials used were cheep and overpriced with no warranty apparently . Fake grass? Wood boardwalk? White pavers? Cheep landscaping? The porous concrete usually only used in warm weather climates will soon need to be replaced after just a few winters of freezing/thawing? Public Works can't seem to even get around to power washing or scooping the gum off the dirty sidewalks from a January event.
      • Tired of Ratio
        It seems Ratio has too much bad to mediocre design influence in Indianapolis. Not sure who Georgia Street was designed for...but clearly not humans. What's with those planters and their placement? The sculptures and other elements blocking any pedestrian movement? Do these designers ever get iut and walk? There are plenty of cities around the world to get the most basic design ideas from. This is yet another example why Indy suffers with a huge identity crisis! Whoever did design this: Way to go.
      • Not a Complete Loss
        While everyone here is very eager to pile on, I would like to point out the immense success of Georgia Street during the Super Bowl. It was so good that future host cities are now being pressured to create a village that comes close to rivaling what Indy put together. Were there some missteps with the design? You bet. Still, the people of this city need to understand that it will take time to fine-tune the street after rushing a lot of it in order to hit Super Bowl deadlines. If everyone would take a collective deep breath you might realize that we have an asset with real possibility. It's unique amongst peer cities and brings a welcome respite from the concrete jungle. Lets give IDI time to figure this out before we bury this project and label it as a failure.
      • Vehicles
        Curious as to why east bound traffic on Georgia Street can't make a left turn and go north on either Illinois or Meridian St. I come out of the parking garage and go South on Capitol, and I make a U-turn on Georgia Street between the Omni and the mall parking garage so I can go north on Illinois. My only other choice is to cut through Crowne Plaza's drive and I don't want to do that. The no-left-turn sign was gone for about a week, and now its back and I see cars ignoring it all the time. Wassup? Pls fix.
        • Defending Against the Onslaught
          Those aren't Sycamore Trees, they are Plane Trees, which are one of the hallmark species of street trees for an urban environment and have been for centuries. Further the planters also sit in what used to be a road and are intended to provide an alternative to sidewalks, not mimic them. In addition, the cultural trail is a lane for bikes, not vehicles. If cars were driving on those pavers, they would also wear poorly. They aren't magical pavers. For the wood, you can't automatically assume the designer was the one who requested the bizarre textured stain application. This is the reason for the mess that the wood is in. When Ipe is left to its own devices, it weathers beautifully. I would highly doubt that the designer suggested this, but I could be wrong. The bollards were a poor choice, no doubt. I'll give you that. As far as the trees mingling with the overhead apparatus, this is a maintenance issue. One of the other would have to go to avoid maintenance and with a proper maintenance program, the limbs can be dressed overtime to work with the lines. I am not a huge fan of the design either, but to act like this design is garbage and the cultural trail is a great design just displays your ignorance and relative lack of experience with great landscape architecture. The cultural trail is a great amenity for the city, but the design is just basic, average work. It deserves much credit for being well constructed and maintained. Georgia Street has suffered from poor maintenance and a terrible client. They aren't even able to scrape gum off the thing!
        • No left turn
          Susan, I presume the no left turn is posted to keep traffic from backing up behind you while you wait to turn since there is only one lane. Using the mid-block u-turn is what I believe they call a "Michigan left". But since there's little traffic on Georgia, I'd guess that you can probably get away with making the left if it doesn't impede traffic behind you. Regarding the design/use of Georgia Street, why isn't the City focused on convincing (providing an incentive) to Simon to open up the Nordstrom's facade and get a restaurant and/or multiple street facing shops along Georgia instead of spending $15 million for a bland parking garage across from One America?
        • I agree
          We missed it!
        • GONDOLA
          Yes bad design, but even if it is fixed no one will notice except maybe on a Colt's home game. Connect Banker's Life with the Convention Center with a Gondola(over-sized trees need to go). Finance with revenue bonds. Visitors and locals would flock to the street. Once you have traffic on street corrections will come out of need.
        • no turns
          The reason for the no turning left to go north is because pedestrians can be walking down the middle of Georgia and crossing right next to eastbound cars. Drivers may not be looking right there since it is not a standard corner crossing, so it safter for the city to advertise no turns.
        • Long-term fix
          Why not just close Georgia Street off to vehicular traffic and make it a true pedestrian plaza?

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