Fourth Artsgarden walkway gets final approval

An enclosed pedestrian walkway connecting the downtown PNC Center with the Indianapolis Artsgarden received final approval Thursday morning.

The Regional Center Hearing Examiner OK’d the design of the project after the Metropolitan Development Commission in October approved providing $600,000 in city funds to help build the connector.

The Greater Indianapolis Bond Bank will finance half of the $1.2 million project by using tax increment financing from the downtown district.

The building’s property manager, Massachusetts-based Reit Management & Research LLC, intends to start construction in March and finish by mid-2011.

“Our goal, when we finish, is that you wouldn’t know it was done 15 years later,” said Ben Griffin, project coordinator for locally based Ratio Architects Inc., which designed the walkway.

Connecting all four corners of the Washington and Illinois streets intersection was the original plan when the Artsgarden was designed more than 15 years ago. No one currently associated with the project knows why the fourth connector has never been added.

The Artsgarden opened in September 1995, connecting Circle Centre mall on the southeast corner of the intersection with Claypool Court on the northwest corner.

Attention after the mall opened focused on attracting a retailer to open on the northeast corner of the intersection, where the Conrad Indianapolis now stands. When the hotel opened in 2006, it was connected to the Artsgarden.

Despite support from city leaders, plans for the fourth walkway drew objections in October from several opponents who railed against using taxpayer money to support “wealthy corporations.”

The 16-story PNC Center, previously known as National City Center and Merchants Plaza, houses the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, the city’s fourth-largest hotel based on number of rooms.

The Hyatt, along with other city hotels, has been targeted by a union group called Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, which is pressuring the hotels to improve their pay scales. About a dozen supporters of the group, armed with signs bearing such slogans as “Vote No on Ballard’s Bridge to Nowhere,” attended the MDC meeting.

Supporters argued that the walkway, as part of the Artsgarden, will be owned by the Arts Council of Indianapolis Inc. They also said TIF funds need to remain within the district and cannot be released into the city’s general fund.
The PNC Center, which includes nearly 625,000 square feet of rentable office space, is owned by HRPT Properties Trust of Boston, which bought the building in 2005. HRPT will provide the remaining $600,000 for construction of the walkway. (Check out a rendering here.)

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the hearing examiner approved the design of two paved parking lots that will replace the existing gravel lots on the former site of Market Square Arena.

Paving is set to begin in March and finish in mid-summer. The roughly $800,000 project will feature perimeter landscaping, tree islands to break up 354 spaces, smart light fixtures and walkways to Market Street.

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