Renovated Central Library spawns neighborhood revival

April 28, 2008

A local developer plans to spend up to $45 million building a "north village of downtown" on several parcels it has assembled near the Central Library.

Buckingham Cos. plans to build apartments, offices, restaurants and retail space--all surrounding its headquarters in the three-story Stokely-Van Camp building at the southeast corner of Meridian and St. Joseph streets.

Buckingham bought the Stokely building and surrounding parking lots in February 2007 and didn't stop there. The firm has a contract to purchase four more parcels nearby--including the former Rollerland skating rink built in 1928. It also is looking at a request for development proposals for the Ambassador Apartments and a parking lot along Pennsylvania Street. Those properties are being offered for sale by the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library.

Executives at Buckingham view the recent opening of a $150 million expansion of the Central Library, a planned extension of the Cultural Trail, and growing demand for urban housing as catalysts for their vision. The privately held company is known for developing and managing apartment complexes across the Midwest.

"It's a great opportunity to build a classic urban node, a mixed-use community within itself," said Matt Griffin, a development manager for Buckingham. "We have office complexes functioning as islands up here, with no real street life. We want to start to turn this around--building a kind of north village of downtown."

Filling in the puzzle

The plans call for a cafe or deli on a parking lot across Meridian Street from the Stokely building. To the north, Buckingham wants to build a four-story building with first-floor retail, 70 luxury apartments and more than 80 parking spaces.

The company is in talks with an office-supply chain about taking a big chunk of the building's retail space. Buckingham has lined up financing, and construction is scheduled to begin in late 2008 or early 2009, Griffin said.

The company is in the early stages of developing a plan for a second phase--focused on a mostly vacant block of properties that once housed locally based Master Glass & Color Inc., which used part of the 23,000-square-foot former skating rink at 922 N. Pennsylvania St. as its showroom. The building also once served as a car dealership.

In the mid-1990s, Indianapolis-based FinishMaster Inc. acquired Master Glass. FinishMaster still occupies one of the buildings included in the deal, but the old owners of Master Glass own the real estate.

Redevelopment of the properties would begin after Buckingham gauges the market reaction to the first phase, Griffin said.

Possibilities for the Master Glass properties include office, retail and more apartments. One thing is certain: Any redevelopment would maintain the old skating rink's Pennsylvania Street facade, as required by historic regulations.

"It's going to be mixed-use," Griffin said. "We're sort of filling in the puzzle."

Bids on the library-owned properties are due May 15. They include the six-story Ambassador building at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and Ninth streets, which the library has been using as construction offices. The library originally had planned to move the building before expanding, but eventually bowed to neighborhood opposition.

The library also is seeking bids on 815 and 817 N. Pennsylvania St., vacant lots where construction workers parked during the library renovation. The library's building committee is scheduled to discuss proposals at a June 10 meeting, and that group's recommendation would later be reviewed by the library's board of trustees.

Next move north

As the library expanded, businesses in the area also invested in the neighborhood in hopes of a turnaround, said Gregory N. Jordan, president of the library's board.

"We have hoped for a long time that the opening of Central would go a long way to boost the area," Jordan said. "If we can bring people in for the businesses, then the businesses draw people to the library, and it benefits everyone."

More apartments would help, too. And they're a good bet since the best downtown complexes are 95-percent occupied, said George Tikijian, owner of locally based apartment brokerage Tikijian Associates.

Two new projects, from J.C. Hart Co. and Flaherty & Collins Properties, already are adding about 400 units downtown, but the timing could work out well for Buckingham, Tikijian said, since downtown easily can handle 200 new units per year.

The area also has plenty of potential for retail and office development on its vacant lots and in empty buildings, said real estate broker Wayne Timberman, who represents the owner of the Master Glass property.

"It's the next move north of downtown," Timberman said. "It's easy to see that available property is becoming scarce. Indianapolis is regrowing. The opportunities are in infill."

And the newcomers just might grab a latte at The Abbey Coffee House at 825 N. Pennsylvania St. or a Datsa Maui pizza at the Datsa Pizza a block north.

"I'm excited," said Dawn O'Connor, the pizza shop owner. "I want to see it all cleaned up."

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