Commission: Turn dying GM plant into vibrant neighborhood

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A 10-member commission on Friday morning told city leaders to turn the 115-acre General Motors metal stamping plant site into a hip, funky neighborhood with an eye-catching bridge across the White River for easy access to downtown.

The commission also wants to crown the site of the defunct factory with a monument that could help evoke the automotive history of the site and the city at large.

The commission, chaired by former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, presented its ideas Friday morning at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown hotel. The city paid $115,000 for the study, which was organized by Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute.

“It does involve risk,” Hudnut said of the proposal. “It involves being willing to spend money to generate new revenue.”

The commission said it as impossible to predict the ultimate cost or jobs produced by the project. It would require the city to gain control of the land, and then coordinate the sale and development of chunks of it by private companies.

Hudnut estimated the plan would take 10 to 15 years to implement. The commission members spent the past week in Indianapolis preparing their recommendations. They will file a final report detailing the recommendations in 60 to 90 days.

The GM plant, opened in 1930, was set to close this month. It once employed more than 5,000 workers but the work force had dwindled to just 700 at the beginning of this year.

The workers rejected an offer last year to keep the plant running, made by Illinois-based JD Norman Industries, because it would have involved a substantial pay cut.

The city, which has been receiving $2 million annually from the site in real and personal property taxes, commissioned a study of the property in February.

The commission’s plan would see the city turn the newer part of the 2 million-square-foot factory into a mix of three-story condos and offices. Some offices would be used as an incubator for startups. The commission hopes the others attract ad agencies or young law firms and other looking for trendy space near downtown.

Some commission members compared their vision to the redevelopment that has occurred in recent decades in the Lockerbie Square and Chatham Arch neighborhoods. And they said the incubator and offices spaces might function in a simiilar way as the Stutz Building, a former auto plant at 10th Street and Capitol Avenue that now serves as offices for artists, an ad agency, a software firm, and other businesses.

The rest of the GM plant site would be filled by single-family and multifamily housing, as well as a school and playing fields for children. The commission also envisions a riverfront park.

The land in question sits just south of the Indianapolis Zoo on the west bank of the White River. Directly north of that area, on the other side of the river, sits the IUPUI campus. Directly south, across a residential neighborhood and Interstate 70, is Eli Lilly and Co.’s technology center.

Hudnut counseled city leaders to make travel between all those areas convenient. He wanted to propose an extension of the monorail from the Indiana University School of Medicine at IUPUI to the former GM site and on to the Lilly technology center. But, at a cost of $140 million per mile, the commission overruled him.

Current Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard listened to the recommendations and spoke highly of them afterward, especially the new bridge across the river, which he hoped would be an icon of the city.

“This whole area can be in that vein,” Ballard said. “And I think we’ll take [the recommendations] to heart.”

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