Ballard announces $4 million City Market overhaul

Mayor Greg Ballard is scheduled to announce nearly $4 million worth of improvements to the downtown Indianapolis City Market at a news conference Friday morning.

The bulk of the money—generated mostly by a downtown tax increment financing district—will underwrite $2.7 million in aesthetic upgrades to the City Market’s main hall, such as a redesign of vendor stand facades, improved lighting and colorful hanging pennants. The revamp also includes a regular schedule of musicians and performing artists to attract visitors to the venue, and the beginnings of a new strategic focus on fresh food.

Ballard will also announce a $400,000 city investment to transform the City Market’s east wing into a bicycle hub adjacent to the Cultural Trail. The remaining $800,000 will come from budget savings derived from efficiency gains the market found through an independent energy audit.

“With the Market makeover, we are extending development of our dynamic downtown area to the east side of the Circle and demonstrating that all of downtown has rich cultural, retail and recreational opportunities,” Ballard said in a news release.

In a telephone interview, Indianapolis City Market Corp. President Wayne Schmidt said stand owners were informed earlier this week about the details of the interior redesign project, which is expected to last nearly a year.

“This is coming to fruition. Is it easy? No. Will it all be in place in two months? No,” Schmidt said. “But come next April or May, when construction is finished and there’s music every day, it will be a destination where people want to go.”

Founded in 1886 and located just north of the City-County Building at Delaware and Alabama streets, City Market has long been a lunchtime institution. But its business has endured a slow, steady slide for decades as its customer base moved to the suburbs.

Indianapolis spent $2.7 million three years ago to renovate the guts of the City Market’s historic Main Hall, but the overhaul did little to boost business. The infrastructure work, which closed the market for months, ran over budget and took longer than expected, causing some vendors to lose business or close. The venue is now plagued with vacancies.

Schmidt pledged that City Market will handle the upgrade project differently this time. Construction crews will work around vendor schedules, he said, doing no noisy or smelly work during peak lunch-traffic hours.

City Market has about a $1 million annual budget, a third of which is subsidized by the city. Ballard’s priority has been to make the market self-sustaining. Attracting a vibrant mix of small businesses is one key to that goal. And the market is starting to make inroads.

Joining Ballard and Schmidt at the news conference will be Cindy Hawkins, owner of baked treats-maker Circle City Sweets. Hawkins opened her stand in the market about a month ago. She reports business is already going well, and she expects it to boom once all the upgrades are complete next year.

“So many people know about the [City] Market,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting people over here, back into the market. When that happens, this will be an amazing location.”

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