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State to scope downtown block for new offices, parking

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Gov. Mike Pence’s administration is in the early stages of a land-use study for a hot piece of downtown property north of the Statehouse.

The study, required under Senate Enrolled Act 367, is to consider the feasibility of a new building to house the judiciary, provide more legislative office space and offer parking for employees and visitors. The act requires the Office of Management and Budget to complete the study by Dec. 1, 2015.

This would be the third time since the late 1980s that state government has considered expanding its presence to what’s now a parking lot northwest of Ohio Street and Capitol Avenue.

Judges and legislators say they—and the public—are working with cramped quarters. The administration last fall solicited “creative” proposals for additional state-employee parking on the state-owned block and ended up with developers pitching multi-use buildings.

The Indiana Finance Authority, which issued the request, isn’t acting on the responses partly because of the pending land-use study, Finance Director Kendra York said. Senate Enrolled Act 367 passed earlier this year.

Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said OMB is in the early stages of reviewing the request for a study and will work with the Department of Administration to gather the “necessary data.”

It’s hard to tell whether Pence and legislative leaders are serious about developing the downtown parcel. Senate Enrolled Act 367 dealt mainly with property tax issues and was amended by Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, to require the land-use study.

Turner was traveling and couldn’t be reached for comment.

“I don’t know why he did it or why he put it in there,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville and one of the co-authors of the bill.

Kenley said it’s “questionable” whether Indiana has the money for a new state-government facility, but noted that the state’s cash position—a $2 billion reserve—is good and interest rates are low.

While he said he’s “not too enthused” about conducting another study, Kenley said it’s better than giving up the asset to the private real estate market.  

SEA 367 also requires the feasibility study include ways to enhance public access to the legislature and judiciary, including additional space for legislative hearings. The Legislature conducts important committee hearings in rooms barely large enough to accommodate members, their staff, people scheduled to testify and the press. Lobbyists and citizens who may also want to speak observe proceedings on monitors in the halls of the Statehouse.

The study is to include ways to enhance security while also enhancing public access and might include past architectural studies, according to the act.

One question OMB should ask is whether it’s cheaper to build than for the Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Court of Appeals to continue renting office space downtown for some functions, said appellate Judge John Baker.

The Legislature has twice approved plans for a capitol expansion, but both times they were squashed by governors. The first plan, drawn up in 1988, was vetoed by former Gov. Evan Bayh. That plan called for a neo-classical style building, complete with a copper dome, that would have been twice the size of the Statehouse. Bayh, a Democrat, later oversaw construction of the south wing of the state office building.

The late Gov. Frank O’Bannon vetoed the plan for a judicial center that the Legislature approved in 2001, and no one has picked up the ball since, said Baker, who sat on the committee that crafted the 2001 plan. The state spent about $4 million on those plans, he said.

Baker is not reading much into the forthcoming land-use study.

“I think I would be encouraged if I knew there was the political will to do something with a study," he said. "I don’t know if I’m in favor of spending taxpayers’ money on a project that is doomed to fail. “

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  • Privatization
    So Bill, your answer is to downsize government and outsource (privatize) the work? Or is it to just not spend any money?
  • Fiscally Conservative
    James, to some, fiscal conservatism is more closely aligned with reducing the role and size of government than being accommodative of more buildings for more government employees.
  • Exactly
    We need another downtown parking garage like a hole inthe head. Invest in mass transit.
  • Should easily pass
    Developing this property is actually the fiscally conservative thing to do. Better to use our state resources to develop currently state-owned land instead of continuing to lease space in buildings downtown. Why should we rent when we can own (at very reasonable interest rates)? This will have the positive side effect of returning downtown space to the county tax rolls (property leased to state agencies is exempt from property taxes).
    • Parking? Really?
      If they would invest in efficient public transportation we would not have to build so much parking. Imagine a downtown where every third building is not an ugly parking garage.
      • More Government?
        I hope the "it’s better than giving up the asset to the private real estate market" line was taken out of context. Don't let the private market develop the property so we can build more space for legislators and bureaucrats? Does Sen. Kenley really believe that Government is a more efficient and effective allocator of capital and resources?
      • Crayons baby
        If cry baby Kenley is against it, good luck. Not going to happen. He is straight out of 1950. He will never ok spending money on anything other than useless roads.
      • not an expert
        But couldn't a developer come up with a plan to do the construction on their own dime (ie get a loan) if the state government departments signed a 99 year lease ahead of time and after 99 years the land reverts back to the State. Then it would be like the State is leasing (which they already do) and gets the land back sometime in the future. Its a win win. Come on government folks!! get creative!
      • RE: Micah
        Completely agree with Micah. This is way too prime of a spot to just have another generic 4 story apartment building. Having a building the height of the Simon building would be a nice bookend to this side of the statehouse.
      • Get some traction
        This would be a great use of the parcel; far better, in my opinion, than another 4-6 story apartment/parking/retail building. Perhaps the state could focus on the southern half of the block first, and add some elevation (the IGCN is 13 stories, so it isn't unprecedented). And bury the Statehouse's north parking lot and return it to green space.
      • Bayh
        "That plan called for a neo-classical style building, complete with a copper dome, that would have been twice the size of the Statehouse." This would have been wonderful. Why did Bayh veto this???

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