The state's largest beer and wine distributor is considering a long-abandoned drive-in theater in Lawrence for a new
Monarch Beverage Co. has outgrown its home along Interstate 465 just east of the airport and has been looking for a place
to move for a year. The company plans to spend $45 million on a facility that would serve as a home base for more than 600
employees, said Phil Terry, Monarch's CEO.
The new facility would be outfitted with automated technology that would accept pallets with individual brands of beer and
wine on one end and deliver pallets with an assortment of beverages, ready for delivery, on the other. The technology would
drop Monarch's current employee roster of 630 by about 20, Terry said.
The drive-in site in Lawrence has emerged as a front-runner for the new headquarters, along with properties in McCordsville,
at Ameriplex on the southwest side, and in Plainfield, Terry said. Monarch hopes to make a decision in the next few months.
The prospect of 600 jobs and redevelopment of the 93-acre Lawrence site–a property once targeted for a horse-racing track–has
local officials salivating. Lawrence is offering Monarch a 10-year tax abatement worth several million dollars, along with
funds from tax increment financing for infrastructure improvements, said Tom Crouch, the city's redevelopment director.
(After the tax abatement phases out, the facility would pay an estimated annual bill of $1.1 million, he said.)
"I can't say that it's done, but we're certainly finalists," Crouch said. "We've been negotiating
for six months. We're cautiously optimistic that we will be selected."
Growing fast is nothing new for the exclusive distributor of Coors, Corona, Franzia and Bartles & Jaymes in many of Indiana's
counties: Monarch has moved or combined buildings nine times since Edwin T. French Sr. founded the company in 1947. Since
1975, the privately held company has acquired 20 smaller distributors.
Monarch brought in $290 million in revenue last year. The company delivers beer to half the state's counties and wine
to two-thirds of the counties as an exclusive distributor for dozens of brands. It also provides beer at the Indianapolis
Motor Speedway and Verizon Wireless Music Center.
Landing Monarch would be something of a relief for Lawrence, which has been grasping for opportunities to redevelop the old
drive-in since it showed its last double feature in 1993. The equestrian dream, led by developer Paul Estridge Jr., died when
a state commission turned down the Lawrence proposal because of its proximity to Hoosier Park in Anderson. In 2002, the investment
group opened a horse track in Shelbyville instead.
And last year, the city denied an effort by a New York firm to redevelop the drive-in property for retail, office and industrial.
Neighbors had worried that heavy industrial would be too close to residential areas.
The property, which sits along Pendleton Pike between Post Road and 52nd Street, is perfect for a company like Monarch, Crouch
said. It's a large parcel within easy driving distance of five interchanges on I-465 and I-70. It sits along a major thoroughfare,
Pendleton Pike, that just received $27 million in road upgrades. And all the parks, trails and soccer fields at the former
Fort Benjamin Harrison property are another selling point.
"It would be the most exciting thing that could happen to us," Crouch said. "When you can bring that kind
of investment to your city, and that kind of jobs, it can change your city. And it will change our city very positively."
The beverage distributor probably wouldn't use all the property, which is still owned by locally based Estridge Development
Co. Inc., Crouch said. That would allow for further redevelopment efforts.
If Monarch chooses the Lawrence site, the move would give Fort Benjamin Harrison and the rest of the area a game-changing
boost, said Ehren Bingaman, a former executive director of the Fort's reuse authority. Since Fort Ben closed in 1996,
the property has become home to a public golf course, an urban state park, and several residential and commercial developments.
"Anything they could get done on that drive-in would be special to that community," Bingaman said. "It would
add a lot of value to the Fort."
The addition of Monarch also would drive traffic to retail developments sprouting in the area, including an 80,000-square-foot
neighborhood center proposed for 10 acres at 56th Street and Mitthoeffer Road.
The $12 million project, developed by Indianapolis-based Via Retail Development, is slated to break ground in late May or
early June. The project has space for two anchors, along with restaurants and small shops.
"Anytime you've got more employees and more activity, it's good for the retail," said Cindy Schembre, a
former executive at Duke Realty Corp. who owns Via. "They need to eat and shop somewhere."
Monarch began its search with a list of about 30 sites in the Indianapolis area, and Lawrence made the final cut. Now, it's
a matter of weighing pluses and minuses of each location, said Terry, Monarch's CEO.
One downside for a move to the more distant Lawrence is the disruption for employees. Many of the company's staffers–from
salespeople to delivery drivers–live close to the current headquarters at 3737 Waldemere Road.
Ultimately, Terry said, he hopes to keep Monarch in Marion County, where it was founded.
"It's just mind-boggling all the variables you deal with," he said.