Jefferson Plaza renovation approaches end

The former Jefferson Plaza is getting a name change and much more as it undergoes a massive renovation by Greenwood developer J. Greg Allen.

Now called Allen Plaza, the 90,000-square-foot building and 17,000-square-foot outdoor space are well on their way to being transformed into a multi-use property, complete with lower-level office space and condominiums on upper floors.

About 70 percent of the downtown project is finished, with a condo open house tentatively set for April.

The year-long renovation of the 40-year-old building has been mostly smooth sailing despite Allen’s in-house construction team’s gutting the structure to its core before applying modern touches.

"We’re refinishing every square inch of the building, from the common corridors and elevator cars to the electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling," said Allen, head of Greenwood-based J. Greg Allen & Associates Inc.

Allen purchased the 1 Virginia Ave. property in 2005 from First Bank & Trust Company of Illinois. Terms were not disclosed, though the building had been on the market for about $3.5 million.

Now, Allen is pouring $17 million into the building, which was headquarters to Jefferson National Life Insurance Co. Plans call for ground-level restaurants, office space on floors two through six, and high-end condos on the top three floors.

The first new tenant, Scotty’s Brewhouse, opened in January. The Indianapolis-based establishment, which operates four other central Indiana locations, will use the plaza for outdoor seating and entertainment.

"It’s a one-of-a-kind location for downtown," Allen said. "The plaza out in front provides space for outdoor dining and other events, and those opportunities are hard to find in what I would call the walking core of downtown."

The interior presented its own opportunities and challenges for Allen and the architects he hired at locally based Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf.

Allen considered five plans. In the end, he chose a contemporary redo with a large glass wall on the northwest side and terraces for upper-level penthouses.

The building’s versatility convinced Allen and his team to renovate and forgo knocking it down.

Greg Jacoby, executive vice president at Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, said, "It was a solid structure, so tearing it down and throwing it away was not sustainable."

Part of that strategy included the pursuit of LEED, or leadership in energy and environmental design, certification for the building from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The certification involves several components of the renovation process as well as how the building is operated once it reopens. For Allen Plaza, this meant recycling as many materials as possible, including metal and lights, and procuring new, sustainable materials from within 500 miles.

Some items used in the renovation were much closer. The lobby, for example, features a large curved wall using wood from a fifth-floor boardroom, Jacoby noted.

LEED guidelines also call for using environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo flooring and paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds.

Pursuing the environmental angle was a no-brainer, Allen said. As a result, the building will be one of the most efficient downtown to operate.

Allen’s competitors are eager to see how the product turns out. Hearthview Residential Inc. partner Chris Reid looked at the building when it was available and wasn’t sure how to approach a full-scale renovation.

"The building is oddly shaped. We had a hard time wrapping our arms around that," said Reid, whose firm tackled the condominium conversion of the Indianapolis Athletic Club, among other downtown residential projects.

Allen’s bread and butter is residential and commercial development, primarily near Greenwood. His companies build custom homes and develop subdivisions and commercial properties. Allen Plaza represents Allen’s first foray into downtown development after more than 30 years in the business.

Allen hasn’t put the 31 residential units on the market, relying on word of mouth to stir interest. The company has received 17 "reservations" from prospective buyers who will have first shot at the units.

"We felt like we were doing such an extensive renovation that it would be really difficult for people to grasp what the finished product would be like until we got pretty close to the end. In addition to that, we felt that maybe it was a wise decision not to go too early and have people fall out because of the time [lapse]," he said.

At least one full floor composed of seven units is expected to be ready for an open house in April.

All but three of the condominiums will range from 1,000 to 1,900 square feet. Three penthouses will cover 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. Units will be listed for $239,000 to $1 million.

On the commercial side, Allen said 80 percent of the retail and office space has been committed to tenants, including Scotty’s Brewhouse and locally based Noble Roman’s Inc.

Leasing activity has been so strong that Allen has considered reducing the condo count by seven and dedicating another floor to office space.

"The response for the commercial [component] has been a really nice surprise," he said.

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