The Omni Severin Hotel has confirmed it's negotiating to buy the surface parking lot immediately east of the hotel, which it wants to redevelop into a parking garage capped by a 12,000-square-foot ballroom.
Tourism officials love the idea, but some parking lot managers say it's unnecessary.
"We're buying it for a reason," said Chris Ratay, the hotel's area director of sales and marketing. "This would allow us to have our own parking facility."
Today, the hotel's valets run across the street to retrieve visitors' cars below Pan American Plaza. The 21,600-square-foot lot is valued for tax purposes at $1.3 million, according to city records. It's owned by Bob Borns, the real estate developer best known for redeveloping downtown's Union Station in the 1980s.
Borns and his company, Indianapolis-based Borns Management Corp., did not return calls seeking comment.
Phil Ray, the Omni's general manager, confirmed negotiations are ongoing and should conclude within 75 days. He predicted construction would take 12 to 18 months.
The hotel has hired an architect to draw up preliminary plans for the site that call for two underground levels of parking, two above-ground levels of parking, and a rooftop ballroom. The structure might include ground-floor retail as well, Ray said.
It's unclear how much the structure would cost.
There are 61 parking spots in the existing surface lot, but with the addition of ramps, any garage the Omni built would have about 50 spots per level, or a total of about 200 spaces, Ray said. The spaces would be for hotel guests as well as the public.
Parking facilities typically cost $12,000 to $15,000 per spot above ground and $25,000 to $30,000 below ground, said Fred Laughlin, director of management services for Indianapolis Downtown Inc. That means the garage could cost anywhere from $3.7 million to $4.5 million, not including the ballroom or the land.
Tourism officials would love to see the investment.
"No question, this is an expansion of one of our prime properties downtown that will continue the strong reputation Indianapolis has of offering a flexible, convenient and accessible convention package," said Bob Schultz, spokesman for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
Omni officials say the move is necessary if it wants to compete with other downtown hotels that offer large meeting rooms. The Omni's largest ballroom is 3,000 feet. The hotel sometimes supplements that space by staging events in the Grand Hall of nearby Union Station.
By contrast, the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown has a 21,000-square-foot ballroom. The Westin Indianapolis has a 17,000-square-foot meeting space and the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Union Station has an 11,445-square-foot room.
"This expansion raises the Omni flag even higher," Schultz said. "It dramatically jumps them into the mix of other convention and meeting hotels."
Some parking operators don't share Shultz's enthusiasm.
"There's plenty of parking right now," said Barry Whidduck, president of Indianapolis-based Express Parking Inc., which manages about 3,500 parking spots in the city.
"The Omni doesn't have their own parking facility, so yes, they could probably use one," Laughlin said. He said Pan Am Plaza is close to full each day and has seen an increase in patronage in recent months from employees of Eli Lilly and Co., which has offices to the south.
If the deal goes through, the Omni's plans will have to get approval from the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.
The hotel hasn't filed its plans, so David Baker, the commission's administrator, said it's too early to comment whether the design would win approval.
If it looks anything like the hotel, however, it'll probably sail past the commission.
"When the Omni was restored [in 1990], they did a great job of focusing on the historic architecture and allowing the new to be driven by the old," said Tina Connor, executive vice president of the Historic Landmarks Foundation. "I would hope that whatever [the Omni] does on that corner would maintain that ethic."
It will, Ray said.
"Our intention would be to maintain the historic feel," he said. "We would make sure it ties together with our existing property."