Preservationists to explore reuses for Old City Hall

August 8, 2013
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Old City hall state museum
                              225pxThe Old City Hall building quietly turned 100 years old back in 2010. It was vacant then and it’s still unoccupied now. But a group of national preservationists wants to help breathe new life into the historic granite-and-limestone landmark.

As part of the Washington, D.C.-based  National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual conference, to be held in Indianapolis for the first time, Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, the group plans to explore reuses for the building during a day-long, on-site event.

“Since this building has been without a designated purpose for some time, the goal is to capture some of the great intellect that will be convening in Indianapolis at an unprecedented level, and combine that with our local experts to spend a day in a charrette,” Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis said.

The building opened in 1910 and housed city offices until the arrival of the City-County Building in 1962. Then, the Indiana State Museum introduced two generations of schoolchildren to its gravitational pendulum, which swung from the 85-foot open rotunda. But in 2002, the Indiana State Museum moved to White River State Park. The building then housed the interim Central Library until 2007.

The first hint of potential redevelopment came in 2009, when Mayor Greg Ballard solicited proposals and received six responses. Three aimed to move crowded local government or economic development offices inside the building. One hoped to establish an international immigration museum, and two proposed a boutique hotel on an adjacent parking lot, possibly connected via an elevated walkway to Old City Hall’s north side.

None of the ideas ever came to fruition, though, partly because it’s been estimated to take $10 million just to get the building functional. The city did pay for a new roof but is reluctant to provide much financial assistance.

“There’s all kinds of interest in the building; how real the interest is is another conversation,” said Adam Thies, director of Metropolitan Development  “Very few people actually want to pay to make it a useable building.”

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

“It’s clearly an outstanding building of the highest caliber,” Davis said. “It’s not endangered. It just needs a purpose.”

The charrette is by invitation only and is funded by The 1772 Foundation, a Connecticut-based organization whose mission is to preserve the nation’s architectural and cultural history.

Speaking of redevelopment, the entity that owns the former GM stamping plant site said Thursday that it has issued requests for proposals to 12 developers in hopes of selling the property and getting it redeveloped.

  • Idea(s)
    It would be nice to see 21C take this spot. They are skilled at adaptive reuse, and have needed to be in the Indy market for some time. Proximity to Mass Ave is nice, too.
    • 21c
      I was just about to say a 21c would be PERFECT for this location!
    • repurpuse the building
      21c Museum Hotels or City Museum is in St. Louis and has taken an older building reused object and art. Educational and Cool all at the same time.
    • Practicality
      Courts and/or government offices, period. How many city and state offices are renting space for whopping annual amounts? Take the state court system, for example. They're in the PNC building AND one on S. Meridian. Can you tell me that those judges and administrators wouldn't KILL to be in a building like that, and that the state can't pony up the cost? Poo. And why don't you random citizens, versus the two shills who've posted so far, walk into the City-County building sometime, check out the gridlock, and also check out the space that the city is renting here and there. How about civil courts in old city hall? How about consolidating office space? Anybody lobbying for condos in that historic building is out to make a buck for themselves or somebody they know, or nuts. Case closed.
    • 21C FTW
      I am glad to see more people talking about 21C, though I would prefer it go into the Illinois Building, though having it in Old City Hall would be a great asset to the east side of downtown and Mass Ave.
    • Museum of Museums
      It should be a Museum of Museums. Get the Vonnegut Library to move in. Open a small history of Indianapolis Museum. And find several others small museums, maybe 2-4 per floor. They could all share resources and ideally all would have separate funding sources that would have more power pooled together. It would be fun.
    • re: "Common" sense
      The fact that I have visited and stayed in 21c hotels and loved the experience hardly makes me a shill. Sure, having government offices in this building makes some sense, but clearly they are beyond that. This was about brainstorming things we would love to see in Indy, and I, for one (though others agree with me), would love to have an asset like a 21c in Indy. (And I agree the Illinois Building would be a great choice too, though I worry about it being too big... we'll see when it goes on the market.)
      I would love to see the CIVIL courts move to this venue and leave CCB for the criminal courts and gov't offices. Just about every county in Indiana has a nicer courthouse facility than Marion.
    • old city hall Indy
      Low cost senior housing would be wonderful. More of our seniors need housing options. Someplace close to transit and local events.
    • Great space!
      I am thrilled that a good group of minds will be debating how to use this space. For years, my husband and I have been wondering what it could be used for. The building is beautiful and stately. We'd love to see a museum of modern media arts & sciences, but we also look forward to experiencing the planning and rebuilding, whatever is decided!
    • A glorious public space
      The building was designed to be a public space and one that inspires the populace to engage with its elected representatives. For civic, operational and financial reasons it should return to its intended use. Here is a link to my column on it.
    • Indeed 21c+
      Yes, indeed Max, Nick, Ggal, etc. That is why we proposed what we did in 2009 with a 21c reuse, and why we have enjoyed discussing the site with their team several times, and hosted a site visit there as well. It is a perfect fit. I can't wait to see this materialize, and I shall keep taking steps to see this realized.

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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.