IPS seeks property swap: School district will trade prime Mass Ave land if deal is right

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But an unusual component of the soon-to-be-released request for proposals by Indianapolis Public Schools, the property’s owner, has many wondering if anyone has what it will take to win the coveted piece of real estate. What it’ll take is the offering of a replacement facility where IPS can move its central transportation facility and other school district operations.

“That’s the general concept,” said SteveYoung, chief of facilities management for IPS. “We’re not looking to sell it. We would have to have something else in place.”

The school district parks its buses in a lot in front of the white, twostory, 300,000-square-foot structure. A new facility would need parking for the buses, which must remain centrally located to serve city schools.

While IPS is not sure the idea of a trade is feasible from an economic standpoint, “We’ve been told by developers that it is,” Young said.

In fact, developers have had their sights on the building and land near College and Massachusetts avenues for a long time.

“I think it’s more exciting than [the] Market Square Arena [site],” said Gerald Kosene, principal of locally based Kosene & Kosene, developer of several downtown condominium projects. “That’s how important we think it is.”

The site and its surroundings are listed as a critical development area in the city’s recently completed Regional Center Plan, which is a guide for the development of downtown and its immediate surroundings.

So developers like Kosene, as well as not-for-profit groups like Riley Area Development Corp., are eagerly awaiting the RFP, slated to be issued at the end of the month.

“Riley Area has been very interested in Mass Avenue for a long time,” said Bill Gray, executive director of RADC, a notfor-profit community development corporation that promotes the development of downtown’s northeast quadrant. “We’re looking forward to seeing the RFP when it comes out.”

Kosene and Gray say the property will likely be converted into a mixed-use development of retail, commercial and housing.

“There’s enough real estate there to do a lot of things,” Gray said. “We want to make sure there is affordable housing in the area and would like to be part of that.”

Among other downtown housing projects, Riley redeveloped the Davlan Apartments at 430 Massachusetts Ave. into a mix of market rate and affordable housing.

Speculation for the retail component includes a large grocery store or discount retailer, such as Target, although developers are wary about making any definitive guesses.

“It’s going to be a tremendous asset to downtown Indy,” Gray said. “It’ll change the scope of the near downtown.”

A study done by Ball State University architecture students reinforces developers’ opinion of the area.

For their thesis project, BSU students choose from several designated areas of Indianapolis and create hypothetical developments. One specifies that students transform the historic Coca-Cola bottling complex into a mixed-use development.

A student project done two years ago included the same mix of retail, residential, office and cultural attractions that developers today say will likely end up there.

“That site would be a major asset to Mass Avenue and the cultural district development,” said Scott Truex, director of the school’s College of Architectural Planning Center. “Ideally, the more we can create people living 24/7, the more we add to the vitality of downtown.”

But the students and the center also looked at other ways a redeveloped area might impact the city.

The Monon Trail ends about a block away, Truex pointed out.

A mixed-use development would be a destination point for that greenway, he said. And it could plug into other bike paths nearby, including the proposed Cultural Trail, a highly landscaped loop around downtown that would connect the Monon with other trails.

The site’s visibility from Interstate 65 could be a draw for any developer, Truex said.

Like the developers, Truex believes an emphasis must be made to retain the historic Coca-Cola bottling plant.

“It’s just great architecture,” Truex said. “It’s a landmark, a great identifier of the city. Everyone knows where and what it is.”

While the building is not protected from demolition at this point, it would be if Massachusetts Avenue stakeholders succeed in having the avenue designated a historic district by the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. IHPC rarely allows demolition of buildings within its districts.

Gray is part of that movement and said the designation is well on its way to becoming a reality.

“We want to make sure that building is left intact,” Gray said. “It’s a great architectural gem of the city.”

But for all that piece of real estate has to offer, developers agree that IPS’ need to make a trade could make the deal difficult to seal.

“The magic issue, obviously, is to make the value of the property work on a mixeduse development to make up for what you spend on building a bus center,” said Dennis Dye, executive vice president of locally based Browning Investments Inc.

Browning has looked at the property, Dye said, and believes “there’s a solution here that would be unique but still satisfy all the parties.”

Like Dye, Kosene said he’s not deterred by the unusual RFP, either.

“As long as there is a very clear view of what their needs are, it should be easy for someone to respond to,” said Kosene, whose company has developed retail, commercial and residential space in its 30-year history.

There’s some flexibility in the district’s request. For example, the bus operations do not need to be located with the rest, Young said. “Our major need is to be able to relocate without disruption to operations.”

Still, it’s going to be a challenge.

“It’s an unusual component,” Gray said. But it’s worth trying to achieve because the school district doesn’t have to move.

“If someone wants that property bad enough, they need to meet the terms,” he said. “That’s just good business on IPS’ part.”

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