Visions for ailing City Market include arts venue, YMCA

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An affordable housing developer wants to build a performing arts complex at downtown’s City Market.

Riley Area Development Corp., a not-for-profit, is one of six parties that responded to Mayor Greg Ballard’s request for new ideas at the struggling market site.

Kurt Fullbeck, a project assistant in the mayor’s Office of Enterprise Development, said the city would not reveal details of the responses to its “request for information” until late December at the earliest. The deadline for proposals was Dec. 2.

Fullbeck said the six respondents were a “broad range” of design and development firms.

Also in the picture is YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, which has been in talks with the city for the past year about eventually building a full-service fitness center on the site.

The historic market pavilion sits on Market Street between Delaware and Alabama streets, just north of the City-County Building. With declining foot traffic to that quadrant of downtown in recent years, City Market has become a food court that mainly captures the workday lunch crowd.

A not-for-profit organization with directors appointed by the City-County Council and mayor runs City Market. It’s come to rely on a city subsidy, which Ballard wants to eliminate.

In its recent RFI, the city focused on redeveloping two wings on either side of the historic main hall. The RFI said the city would favor uses that promote visual and performing arts and “a healthy lifestyle” with lockers, showers and bicycle storage.

The YMCA would like to replace the east wing with a multi-story fitness center, special counsel Peter Cleveland said. Through its talks with the city, the Y expects to be given space on the site, but it wouldn’t act as a lead developer. The Y did not submit a proposal under the city’s RFI process.

Cleveland said the would-be developers are aware of the Y’s role. Several, including Riley Area, contacted him to talk about how to incorporate the Y in their plans. 

“Under any development plan, I don’t know why the Y wouldn’t be included,” Cleveland said.

Riley Area board member Gary Reiter conceived of a mixed-use arts center last year, and has been hunting for a site.

“Most live-work art spaces are for the visual arts,” he said. “But this project will focus on the performing arts and literary arts community.”

Riley has converted two historic buildings into affordable apartments, the Davlan on Massachusetts Avenue, and the Rink-Savoy on Vermont Street. 

On the City Market site, Riley would build 63 one-bedroom apartments with ground-floor commercial tenants and three 100-seat theaters in the basement. The apartments would be reserved for artists, Reiter said.

Depending on available funding, a 500-seat theater and other amenities could be added.

Riley Area would apply for $10.5 million in low-income housing tax credits to build the apartments and the shells for commercial space. Other grants, private-fund raising and tenants would cover the remaining cost, estimated at $33.5 million to $50 million.

Reiter is hopeful that its two commercial-space users would be the YMCA and Dance Kaleidoscope, which might build its own studio. Both not-for-profits would have to raise money to finish construction.

The design would hinge on a market study to determine the precise demand for apartments, as well as other development partners’ needs, Reiter said.

Riley Area submitted to the city non-binding letters of interest from Dance Kaleidoscope, the Indianapolis Opera, and Storytelling Arts, all of which would like to use rehearsal or performance space downtown.

The YMCA is holding off on backing one proposal over another, Cleveland said.

The organization has other hurdles to clear before it can commit to a downtown center. The YMCA recently started construction on a new fitness center in Avon. Its current fund-raising priority is for a $25 million center in Pike Township, Cleveland said. The Y would like to start construction on that next year.

The whole City Market project, including a YMCA component, may have to be built in phases, Cleveland said.

If the YMCA does proceed with a full-service center, the organization would continue to operate its gym inside the historic Athenaeum.

The Y’s market study shows that a new downtown center with aquatics would draw not just office workers, but families from several miles in every direction, Cleveland said. The Athenaeum, meanwhile, would retain its own Massachusetts Avenue-centered membership base.



  • Not a market
    The problem is that the city market is not a market right now -- it is a food court. Why is that St. Louis, Columbus, Baltimore, Nashville, etc. etc. can have vibrant city markets that are actual DESTINATIONS, and Indianapolis has a building smack downtown that has struggled for as long as I have lived here? I agree with Liz that parking ia a big thing, although there is a lot across the street. I am pretty much at the point that Indianapolis should give up on the idea of ever having a thriving genuine market.
  • OMG
    lets see the drawings and the cash flow projections. If the submissions were public why isn't there any info on them
  • built around it
    Hopefully the plan is to leave the market intact while adding the YMCA and apartments very near by. There is no reason to tear down the market when it is right by massive gravel lots. I say develop around it, and let it remain an asset to the area as more people choose to live downtown near it all.

    I agree about using the old state museum for a performing arts center. No need to build one when a historical building like this would be a perfect restoration project.
  • Preserving Food Space
    I think it would be a shame to see the City Market redeveloped without any market or restaurant component. Especially if there were to be a YMCA, apartments or event space. A small local grocer with a deli and/or a great locally focused restaurant should be included. Growing, producing and preparing real food is an art and a critical piece of a strong, healthy community.
  • Nice
    I look at this as a chicken and egg scenario. What comes first? Well in this case it has to be the crowds. The crowds will attract the fresh food vendors and this proposal is designed to bring several hundred thousand people a year into the City Market. What do you think will happen once all those people show up? The vendors will improve. More vendors will rent space. Up to now, the community has been asking vendors to sign up while hoping that the crowds will follow. That strategy has failed. Now there is a new strategy to generate crowds first and people are critical. Geez Louise. It seems to make perfect business sense to create a venue to attract people, and those people will buy, and those buying people will attract and retain fresh food vendors causing the market to transform into a vibrant City Market.
  • I agree
    I agree with you "Can You Believe This". I visited the City market every Wednesday as well and really enjoyed it as a newby to downtown working. Why don't they ask those that come every Wednesday to have booths within the Market? Is this soemthing that has been done and didn't prosper?
  • Why not make it a market?
    When I was growing up in Indianapolis, I remember it as the original farmers market. Then it morphed into a food court for downtown offices and did everything possible make it a challenge for anyone to shop there as a market for fresh meats and produce. Market days were two to three days a week for the green grocers and the rest of the time things were quieter or the market was closed.
  • short-sighted
    The reason the market hasn't worked as a market or a food destination is lack of parking. So why would a Y work? People still would want to drive there. How about tearing down the hideous "new" sections of the market and creating parking there? Or using the Market Square arena site for parking? Then a true market concept, like other cities seem to run successfully, could work. Fresh Market in Broad Ripple could show how that could be done.
  • Replicate Cincy
    Look at Findlay Market in Cincinnati and replicate. http://www.findlaymarket.org/index.htm It's an amazing place and is a vibrant part of Cincy. It's in a much worse area than Indy's City Market, so there is no excuse not to succeed. Put in vendors that replicate a real grocery and not a glorified food court. It's an obvious solution to aid residential growth downtown. Itâ??s maddening that leaders havenâ??t been acute enough to figure this out.
  • City Market
    After a little more thought on my part, I think all of us who have written something want the same thing: a vibrant downtown, and that should include a full and exciting City Market. I know my own personal biases affect what I write and I am very much bias toward an active City Market. I fear that we will throw away our historic market for a temporary solution. Some time ago we destroyed a 3000 seat Indiana Theatre; then when we need a large venue, we destroyed the smaller Murat by adding seats. So now I fear that we will destroy our City Market and then in 5 years we when more people live downtown we won't have the vibrant City Market that I envision.
  • Interesting
    As long as they keep the original middle structure and retain the market space in some form, these ideas sound promising. Downtown needs more affordable apartments for students and the only way a true city market will succeed is with an influx of density and residents in the immediate area. I like the theater and fitness center ideas. I hope they are being proposed as a way to help the market succeed, not replace it.
  • City Market
    The part about the Market remaining a City Market came from my review of the original RFI that is online. The RFI stated the proposal should be for the adjoining land sites and have a positive impact on the City market. I would think that the inside vendors (and outside Wednesday vendors) would love any idea that increases traffic to the City Market because of the potential to sell more fresh food items to more people. The Market is failing because there are not enough people going to the venue. I guess what you are saying is that so long as the fresh food market remains, you support any effort to bring more people to the Market? The 300,000 additional visitors a year came from the article in the other local paper. Also, I understand the tax credit funding is federal monies and the article above states the rest is from grants and private monies. Anyone can criticise the federal program, but if a federal program exists, I am in favor of bring federal dollars to Indy, versus the federal tax money going somewhere else.
  • City Market
    Gee Leo, I didn't see anything in the article that strongly stated the City Market would remain a city market. All I saw was 63 apartments and 3 theaters and maybe keeping the center portion as a market(while they are currently throwing out the best tenant they have). As for the Farmers' Market, I was there almost every Wednesday, on Market Street, not IN the City Market building. Every Wednesday is a lot different than everyday; and it only was open during the summer. Why can Indianapolis not have a real city market? Firewoman has it right; use the vacant site for the apartments and keep the market for a real market. Now I realize that this might take some effort, maybe some creative thought by the mayor, etc, but the result would be a significant improvement. There are so many reasons to have a city market-real food, home grown, etc movement-I hope the mayor does not take the easy way out. There may not be many of us who used to visit the City Market on a regular basis to buy meat, fish, fruits and vegetables; it was a great experience and the foods were fresh. I'm really not against the arts involvement in the area, that is also good, but I hate to see what is left of the City Market be diluted more.
    • Firewoman
      I do not see anything in the article that states the City Market would not remain a farmers market. The project is proposed to be built up against the outside of the City Market. The complex would bring 300,000 people a year into the market on the way into the theater complex and gym. 300,000 extra people a year walking through the market would certainly help the vendors in the market. A little imagination and you can see the possibilities for a festival like atmosphere on the weekends with food shopping and entertainment possibilities. Heck, I would go to this venue. Also, it is interesting that the Civic Theatre moved to Carmel with this project on the horizon for downtown Indianapolis.
    • No!
      How about they develop that huge gravel lot nearby into apartments with a fitness center and leave the market a market! What the market needs is more foot traffic and more promotion. Most of the convention visitors to this city probably have no idea about the market. I never see any advertisements anywhere around town for it. Please, please, please do not develope it into a performing arts center or YMCA. Leave it a market! How about using the old State museum for a performing arts center? It's still empty!

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