Movements in midtown may mean more housing, retail: Handful of developers take on North Meridian projects

Keywords Insurance / Utilities

“It’s just a matter of time.”

At this point, the statement may reflect more hope than reality. The city’s main corridor is a concrete jungle through much of midtown, filled with parking lots, for-sale signs and buildings exhibiting nearly nonexistent design standards.

However, a small-butgrowing number of developers is showing interest in revitalizing the main corridor through midtown. One of the newest plans would create a mixed-use development at 21st and Meridian streets called Meridian at 21.

Local businessman Jeffrey Congdon and his partners in 21 Meridian LLC are seeking city approval to build two fourstory buildings on 1.4 acres on the north side of 21st Street between Meridian and Pennsylvania streets.

Both buildings would house office or residential condominiums and possibly retail space. One would face east, toward Pennsylvania, and the other would face Meridian.

Two existing buildings, the historic Rink Mansion and an attached four-story brick office building, would also be renovated into retail space and office or residential condominiums.

The project, if completed, would transform roughly a half-block of property occupied by parking lots and underused buildings into first-floor retail space and as many as 15 office or residential condos.

Congdon’s group is seeking rezoning for the property to a mixed-use designation. The developer also hopes to gain city approval to close an alley running north/south through the property, allowing a courtyard between all four buildings.

Although the project is a stone’s throw from the new construction in Fall Creek Place and renovated homes in Herron-Morton Place, the area’s revitalization didn’t factor into Congdon’s plans, he said. Rather, he was drawn to the site by the limestone mansion, built in the late 1800s by Indianapolis businessman Joseph Rink.

“Our number one goal was to put together a project to preserve that mansion,” Congdon said. “From [Monument] Circle to Fall Creek, there’s very little left that’s original.”

Congdon’s group isn’t the only one that sees opportunity on the city’s main northsouth artery. A few lots away, locally based Page Development plans in coming weeks to convert a historic apartment building into six luxury condominiums with an average price of $250,000.

Page also owns two empty lots, which it plans to sell for retail development. One, a 0.7-acre lot at 22nd and Meridian, is listed for $450,000. The other, on the south side of the apartment building, is about half that size and is listed for $150,000, said company President Tony Page.

A few blocks south, at 18th and Meridian, a local partnership including Prime Site Brokers principal Clint Fultz recently closed on the purchase of a four-building complex totaling 93,000 square feet. The buildings, formerly owned by Grain Dealers Mutual Insurance Co., will be renovated, although plans are still in the formative stage. Part of one of the buildings will be demolished to reveal more of the façade of an early-20th-century building on the site, Fultz has said.

Most of the original buildings that lined Meridian Street through midtown were demolished in the mid-20th century. The street became home to headquarters of some of the city’s largest businesses, including insurance companies, television stations and public utilities.

In recent years, many of those businesses have either been acquired by outof-state firms, downsized or outgrown their space, leaving several large office buildings empty. That doesn’t mean the area is no longer commercially viable, however, said several local brokers.

“I think you’ll see some demolition and some redevelopment of some of the buildings” along Meridian in coming years, said Brian Epstein, principal of Urban Space Commercial Properties, which is listing the former studios of WXIN-TV Channel 59 at 1440 N. Meridian St. for $1.9 million. “We’ll see a change in use in other buildings, depending on the footprint and what’s involved in a rehab.”

Interest has been strong in the 32,000-square-foot former studio and adjacent parking lot, Epstein said, mostly from businesses that would own and occupy the building.

Brokers listing other properties in the area reported similar interest from businesses attracted by the nearby interstate and free parking.

“Meridian Street is still a prestigious address,” said Darrin Boyd, a broker with the local office of Colliers Turley Martin Tucker, who is listing the former Stokely Van Camp building at 941 N. Meridian St. and a smaller office building across the street for a combined $4.5 million.

The two buildings total 114,000 square feet and come with 239 parking spaces on nearly three acres. Recently, developers have looked at the site for a mixed-use development that would include a residential component, he said.

Near North Development Corp., the community development organization whose area includes the Meridian midtown corridor, is working on plans to enhance the area’s appearance, said President Amy Kotzbauer.

Although many of the buildings along Meridian are occupied, the facades, some of them less-than-stellar examples of midcentury architecture, don’t give a welcoming appearance to passersby.

Near North is working with building owners on ideas, such as low-maintenance landscaping or minor building changes, that will make the area more inviting, Kotzbauer said.

“There’s been more interest in the area in the last few years,” she said. Not only have some new businesses and owners moved in, but longtime owners are also becoming more interested in making changes to their buildings, she said.

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