City's life sciences corridor to get $4M in improvements

October 22, 2007

City planners have long envisioned a high-tech corridor of life sciences research buildings and businesses extending northwest of downtown to 16th Street.

Development will take decades. But Indianapolis finally is taking major steps toward its biotech dream. The city is spending $4 million on infrastructure and streetscape improvements, as well as signage identifying the area as a life sciences hub.

Private developers, and investments by nearby IUPUI, should take it from there.

"Never underestimate the power of clean concrete," said Jim Garrard, Indianapolis' director of economic development. "When we get the streetscapes done there, it will start generating a lot more interest."

The $4 million will go to a range of uses, such as improving pedestrian access between the State Forensics and Life Sciences Laboratories and a Clarian People Mover rail station. The work will be paid for by federal grants and taxes the corridor is allowed to retain as a certified technology park.

Turning the area into a bustling life-sciences corridor has been in the planning stages for years. In 2003, the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, BioCrossroads and the city commissioned New York's Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners LLP to create a "Framework for a Research Community."

Beyer Blinder Belle, Indiana University's master architect for more than a decade, is best known for restorations of world-famous landmarks, such as New York City's Grand Central Terminal and Ellis Island.

It laid out its vision for Indianapolis' corridor after studying three of the nation's most successful life sciences research parks: Richmond, Va.'s Virginia Biotechnology Research Park; Raleigh, N.C.'s Centennial Campus; and Madison, Wis.' University Research Park.

Beyer Blinder Belle recommended starting development at the head of the Central Canal, then moving on to the proximity of shuttered Bush Stadium and the Indianapolis Waterworks Pump Station--areas dominated by older industrial and residential buildings.

The canal's life sciences developments now are nearly complete, thanks to investments by Indiana University and Clarian Health. They include IU's high-tech business incubator--the Emerging Technologies Center--and Clarian's Pathology Laboratory, as well as the IU Fairbanks Hall and Clarian Education and Resource Center.

Meanwhile, property farther north stands ripe for additional development. A few parcels, such as a former site of a Lincoln Tech training center, are being actively marketed. And several significant life sciences buildings have already been erected in the area, such as the state forensics laboratories and IU's Biotechnology Research and Training Center, both along 16th Street.

IU is contemplating what should come next, said Bill Stephan, the university's vice president for engagement.

The university's new president, Michael McRobbie, has said one of his top priorities is to boost life-sciences research and the ability to commercialize life-sciences discoveries.

In his inaugural address Oct. 18, McRobbie said IU is interested in building an incubator that would house fast-growing life-sciences companies that have become too large for its incubator along the canal. The university might decide to make it a multipurpose building, Stephan said, with laboratory space for research professors and administrative offices.

IU hasn't picked a location, he said. However, the corridor flanks the north side of IUPUI's campus, and for a decade the university has been acquiring land in the area as it came on the market.

"That is still very much a corridor that is key to the university and campus' future," he said. "It's always been [our] view that was the logical extension of the campus."

Stephan said IU has begun discussions with the city to plan the corridor. McRobbie also has launched strategic planning to determine the university's short- and long-term life sciences needs.

As those plans crystallize over the next year, development in the corridor should gain momentum, Stephan said.

"When you're looking at facilities development over what may be the next several decades, you don't want to be hasty," Stephan said. "I suspect it's going to be a process that's the better part of a year in the making."

In the meantime, the city is shopping for private developers who can make the most of the public property available in the area. IBJ reported last month that the city has hired professional appraisers to assess Bush Stadium's market value--the first step toward its demolition and redevelopment. Garrard said the city has received several inquiries about Bush Stadium since.

"We get nibbles. Interested parties float [ideas] once in a while, but nothing is solidified yet," Garrard said. "It's 15 acres. [So] it could be a real anchor, a nice, prominent location for someone in the life sciences industry."

The city also owns land in the middle of the corridor where the Indianapolis Waterworks' Pump Station sits. Because it's responsible for 60 percent of the Indianapolis Water Co.'s capacity, the station would be costly to tinker with. And the ground surrounding it has a maze of water pipes under the grass.

Beyer Blinder Belle's 2003 study proposes moving a few key pipes to make surrounding property more attractive for redevelopment.

Garrard said plans like those likely would have to wait until much later in the life sciences corridor's development, as the cost would be millions of dollars.

Private developers have taken note that planning for the corridor is gaining steam, said Bill Ehret, president of Indianapolis-based Summit Realty Group. He said there's plenty of private interest in turning planners' life sciences vision into reality.

But the project will take a decade at bare minimum, he said.

"I think it makes a lot of sense to make that kind of development along Stadium Drive," Ehret said, referring to an artery running diagonally through the corridor. "And if you look at what they've already accomplished along the canal, it is awesome. They did a lot of things right. And I anticipate they'll do a lot of things right as they move into the northwest quadrant."

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