City agency signs off on North of South site plans

The massive North of South mixed-use project cleared another hurdle Thursday morning when a city agency approved preliminary site plans.

Indianapolis’ Regional Center Hearing Examiner signed off on the $155 million development’s master plan, though final review of each of its 10 buildings will be done on a case-by-case basis in the future.

The complex, to be built primarily on Eli Lilly and Co.-owned parking lots at Delaware and South streets, is to include a boutique hotel, a YMCA, apartments and retail and office space.

The project’s developer, locally based Buckingham Cos., expects to finish construction within two years.

Because the site is within the Regional Center overlay district,  the project needs to comply with Regional Center Urban Design guidelines.

North of South’s site plans now will go before the Metropolitan Development Commission. If no one files an appeal, which seems unlikely at this stage, MDC could adopt the plans at its next meeting March 2.

“There’s still a considerable amount of work to be done on the final design,” said Tim Ochs, a lawyer at Ice Miller LLP representing Buckingham. “But we’re moving forward; we’re making progress.”

In the meantime, the City-County Council still needs to approve financing. Buckingham hopes to help finance the project with $98 million in proceeds from the sale of municipal bonds.

A preliminary vote on the bond sale by the council’s economic development committee had been set for the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 2, but that meeting was canceled due to inclement weather.

Instead, the committee held a special meeting Feb. 4 to consider the financial package so that the matter could be taken up Monday night by the full council. The committee voted 7-0 in favor of the project, but the city’s failure to post notice of the special meeting at least 48 hours in advance appeared to be a violation of the state’s Open Door Law.

Rather than have that become an issue, the council voted unanimously Monday night to send the financial package back to the committee for consideration. The next committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 16. If the committee once again recommends approval of the measure, the full council could vote at its next meeting on Feb. 28.

Pending approval, Buckingham expects to start construction on one of two parking garages and the 158-room hotel in April.

The developer has spent three years working with Lilly to formulate plans for North of South. Buckingham, Lilly and the city announced the effort last September, at which time Buckingham expressed hope it could break ground on the project by the end of 2010.

Lilly, which is partnering with Buckingham on the project, says North of South would help connect the Lilly corporate campus with downtown proper and offer amenities that would help the pharmaceutical firm attract and retain employees.

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