Plan envisions hot growth for downtown Indianapolis

April 14, 2012

Twenty years ago, few besides the most optimistic boosters could have predicted the evolution of downtown Indianapolis into a Super Bowl host city.

So how will downtown look in another 20 years?

A study commissioned by the office of Mayor Greg Ballard envisions a much more densely populated, walkable downtown core stretched by several blocks and supported by another Circle Centre mall’s worth of retail and enough new office space to double the size of Chase Tower.

For an overview of the study, click here.

The mapping study—designed by Indianapolis-based Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects and Crawfordsville-based Urban Initiatives—offers a location for a new 10-story judicial center, plots potential uses for the Market Square Arena site, provides a roadmap for the next expansion of the Indiana Convention Center, and suggests a location for a new downtown transit center.

It calls for 9,300 new homes or apartments, 790,000 square feet of retail space, 1.8 million new square feet of office buildings, and 18,600 more structured parking spaces.

At the heart of the 47-page plan dubbed “What’s Next Indianapolis?” is a desire to fill holes in the cityscape as a means to better connect some of Indy’s underutilized assets, including White River, with downtown.

The plan suggests riverfront greenways linking new residential areas to Victory Field and the rest of White River State Park, and a landmark bridge connecting South Street to the former GM Stamping Plant.

Much of the suggested development would take place south of Washington Street, transforming several city blocks east, west and south of Lucas Oil Stadium into a mixed-use residential district on par with Mass Ave and Chatham Arch.

The plan suggests the addition of more than 3,200 residences between Delaware Street and White River, and another almost 3,000 across the river at the former home of the GM Stamping Plant.

“No city is static: It either grows or it shrinks,” said former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, now an urban affairs consultant in Washington, D.C. “I think this kind of dreaming is great for the city. It certainly is desirable. The question is whether it is feasible.”

Deputy Mayor Michael Huber said the study is no master plan, but rather a general framework for new developments, a set of guidelines to determine which sort of projects merit consideration for city incentives.

“It’s basically helping us develop guidelines for future TIFs, future Rebuild Indy funds,” Huber said. “Part of the idea is to have a conversation starter.”

It’s also a work in progress; Browning Day and Urban Initiatives already are working on the next phase of their study, addressing areas just outside the downtown core.•

More from the plan:


Blog author asks: Where’s the transit?

The mapping study doesn’t pay enough attention to public transportation in the eyes of Curt Ailes, who contributes to the Urban Indy blog.

He’s perplexed that the plan calls for more than 18,000 new parking spaces. If we build a more compact and livable city, he wonders, why would we need so many more parking spaces?

“It’s great to see a vision for better uses of spaces, but as they teach in urban planning: transportation and land use are joined at the hip,” Ailes said. “Everything’s within walking distance, bus or streetcar distance. Why use up the land for a whole bunch of parking spaces if you can provide some sort of public transportation?”

He’s also not sold on suggested “low-density” residential development on parts of the old GM Stamping Plant and south of Lucas Oil Stadium: “Why would you have that in a downtown area?”

Still, Ailes lauds the study as a “conversation starter.” •


Super Bowl prompted invigorated new focus on downtown housing

Browning Day and Urban Initiatives worked on the What’s Next study as Indianapolis prepared to host the Super Bowl.

The timing was by design to ensure the city keeps making progress after the big event, said Brad Hurt, president of Urban Initiatives and a longtime adviser to former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith. Hurt advised Goldsmith on downtown projects including Circle Centre and Victory Field.

The team took into consideration zoning maps, ownership structure of parcels, and ease of assemblage, Hurt said. The study, which will cost the city about $125,000, focused in the first phase on development efforts in the so-called GM, Market and Stadium districts. The second phase will drill down into the neighborhoods.

“You’ve got to continue the strategy that’s been in place for 40 years downtown: you need to do it all—the office, retail, convention, hotel and housing components,” Hurt said. “But the clear conclusion of this report was toward a more housing-oriented downtown than in the past. I think we’ve reached or are close to reaching critical mass on downtown housing.”•


Developers planning projects in the study’s path

The Browning Day and Urban Initiatives study suggests 116,000 square feet of office space, 9,000 square feet of retail, and 465 parking spaces for a parcel north of South Street between Meridian and Pennsylvania streets.

That’s not quite what the property owners had in mind, but it’s close, said Brian Epstein, principal in Urban Space Commercial Properties, who has been trying to develop the parcel for more than four years.

Financing still is no sure bet, but Epstein isn’t giving up on his plan to build a project called Ralston Square with 40,000 square feet of retail, 525 parking spaces, a boutique hotel and apartments.

Epstein said the What’s Next plan may seem far-fetched now, and the ultimate development might look a lot different, but it doesn’t hurt to lay out a vision.

“Over 20 years, we’ll probably have another two real estate cycles, another up and a down cycle,” he said. “Everything’s cyclical, so I’d expect another housing boom by then.”

Across the street from Epstein’s parcel is the last remnant of probably the most ambitious private development ever proposed for Indianapolis: Legends District SoDo.

The fizzled 2007 proposal called for 500 hotel rooms, 200 condos, a 3,400-seat theater and 175,000 square feet of retail space. Its estimated cost: $480 million.
Developer Ryan Zickler, who envisioned SoDo, and his partners still own the 1.2-acre surface parking lot at the southeast corner of Madison (Meridian) and South streets.

The What’s Next plan envisions housing, retail and a parking garage for the site. Zickler would not say specifically what he has planned, but said he’s exploring a “smaller scale” project.

The construction of CityWay and arrival of Rolls-Royce to the Faris Campus makes the site even more promising than it was five years ago.
“Things are getting better and better in the commercial real estate world,” Zickler said. “We’ve been very patient and we’re still being very careful where we go from here.”•


In his own words: Thoughts from former Mayor Bill Hudnut

hudnut-bill-mug.jpg Hudnut

On the study: Rome wasn’t built in a day and cities are built incrementally so far as I’m concerned. Anything that reinforces the centripetal tendencies and counteracts sprawling development makes sense.

On more urban housing: It not only reinvigorates the downtown area, but also makes sense from a point of view of smarter growth so that new cornfields aren’t gobbled up by development.

On fewer surface parking lots: When we were working on the Pan Am Games, I took someone from Disney to the top of the AUL building. He said: “When are you guys going to learn to park vertically instead of horizontally?” He could see the vast sea of parking lots. I think structured parking makes more sense.

On whether the plan is feasible: Dreams are such stuff as life is made of. This is a dream, a vision. To quote the Good Book again: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs) The question I think is the market: Would it sustain this type of development? Is there enough of a demand for it?•


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