City leaders look to 16th Street as future tech hub

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City officials on Thursday unveiled a long-term plan to redevelop an industrial stretch northwest of downtown with the goal of attracting hundreds of residents and dozens of high-tech companies to the area.

The ambitious urban renewal effort, dubbed the 16 Downtown Technology District, builds from a strategy discussed over more than a decade to turn the corridor between IUPUI and 16th Street into a life-sciences research hub.

City leaders, including Mayor Greg Ballard and representatives from Develop Indy, the city’s economic-development arm, say the time is ripe—even in an economic slump—to bring the plan to life.

The idea is to create a trendy urban district where residents can live within blocks of work. The project could require $15 million to $20 million in public investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment. It is expected to take 10-20 years to complete.

The plan relies heavily on being able to lure companies interested in locating near what some say already is an emerging technology-and-life-sciences hub near Indiana University research facilities.

“Companies and the creative class want to be in an environment like this,” said Nancy Langdon, who is leading the project for Develop Indy. “We want to broaden our viewpoint so we attract a variety of high-tech businesses.”

Langdon and others say a few building blocks already are taking shape for the project.

Officials said a final agreement is near for the redevelopment of the historic Bush Stadium site, which is wedged between 16th Street and the White River near Harding Street.

Developer John Watson will build 268 units around the stadium façade, which will be preserved, and near the baseball diamond where the Indianapolis Indians played until 1996. Rental rates for the units will range from $480 to $1,400 per month. The project is expected to be complete by August 2013.

The city is contributing about $5 million to the $23 million project, including tax dollars generated in the area and more that will be transferred from the consolidated downtown tax-increment financing district. Watson said he also is seeking a federal loan to help finance part of the project.

Indianapolis also will invest another $3 million in public money to renovate Indiana Avenue from roughly 10th Street to 16th Street with new landscaping, walking paths, bike lanes and other streetscape elements designed to brand the area. That funding will come from initial proceeds from the sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy Group.

Other projects already underway—including a $3 million expansion of the Herron School of Art and Design and mixed-use apartment projects being built near Indiana Avenue by developers Buckingham Cos. and Trinitas Ventures—also signal energy in the area, leaders of the initiative say.

“You’re going to really start changing the way people view this area,” said Brad Hurt, a Crawfordsville-based economic development consultant who worked on the project. “There’s been a lot of momentum established already.”

A lot more movement is needed, though, for the ambitious plan to become reality.

The city is promoting about 120 acres in the area as available space for development or redevelopment. About two-thirds of that is owned either by the city or Indiana University or its affiliates, which have been a partner in the effort.

The rest are privately owned, and it will take effort—and possibly a public subsidy—to acquire and assemble those properties, said Dennis Dye, executive vice president of Indianapolis-based commercial real estate firm Browning Investments.

Lots of public money also will be needed for infrastructure. The city has not yet solidified a funding source, but if the pending utilities sale is approved by state regulators, that could free up tens of millions.

Despite the tough economy, experts such as Dye say the venture is a timely opportunity for the city to undertake.

“There’s probably no better time to do it,” Dye said. “The private side of the world can’t do it without an initiative like this occurring.”

To see renderings of the plans, visit IBJ's Property Lines blog.


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