Plan calls for creating a downtown feel at IUPUI campus

December 22, 2008
In 20 years, IUPUI leaders want their campus to feel more like the rest of downtown — taller buildings, more parks, more people hanging out — and they want to connect it to the city's core.

A preliminary campus master plan presented this month sketches out a vision for achieving the first goal, but leaves the second largely unsolved. IUPUI is still cut off from the rest of downtown by nine lanes of fast-moving traffic on West Street.

"It still seems like this campus is somewhat alienated from the center of downtown," said Drew White, principal of locally based Axis Architecture, after reviewing maps of the master plan. But IUPUI's drive to give its campus an urban feel excited White.

"Density, that's going to help the campus a lot," he said. "It allows you to appreciate the campus for more than just a series of parking garages, which is what it is now."

The plan was drawn up by JJR, the planning division of Detroit-based architecture firm Smith-Group. SmithGroup designed two of IUPUI's buildings: the law school and the newly opened campus center. The plan can still change, but IUPUI leaders expect to finalize it early next year. JJR wants to push the edges of IUPUI north and east to Indiana Avenue near the Madame Walker Theatre Center, south to the White River and up — with retail, office and housing space in multistory buildings and possibly a tower that would mark the campus clearly for anyone gazing from a downtown office tower.

"The challenge here is, we're in a city, but when you're on campus, you wouldn't necessarily know it," said Mary Jukuri, design director for JJR, during a Dec. 11 presentation on the IUPUI campus. "We want to enhance the urban experience. This is a campus in a great city."

To do this, JJR recommends tripling the number of students living on campus to more than 3,500, erecting 120,000 square feet of retail and commercial office space, and building parking garages that would add 4,000 spaces. To accommodate more students and academic space, the plan recommends adding 3.2 million square feet of student housing, academic and research space, particularly for life sciences.

It also wants to demolish 1 million square feet of aging buildings, including the drab, low-slung administration offices. Also on the chopping block are the Indianapolis Tennis Center and possibly the Michael A. Carroll Track & Field Stadium grandstands and track. Both facilities were built to support Indianapolis' amateur sports initiative. (See story, page 1.)

Those sports venues would likely be replaced by a 6,000-seat gymnasium/convocation center, a performing arts center and a riverside park that might include housing aimed at university employees or residents at Indiana University and Wishard Memorial hospitals on the northern fringe of IUPUI's campus.

JJR also wants to make the campus safer and friendlier for walkers and bikers. It would construct a network of biking paths and add a north-south green space corridor from the riverfront to the medical center campus. Even more significantly, it wants to slow traffic on Michigan and New York streets by making them two-way, divided by medians.

"Students describe Michigan as a game of Frogger," said IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantz. Every firm that applied to do the master plan cited traffic as a problem and one firm from New York said, "'It is safer to cross Fifth Avenue at Rockefeller Center than it is to cross Michigan,'" Bantz recalled.

More than anything, Bantz wants to make it easier to come to campus and more comfortable to stay for the school's 30,000 students, more than 95 percent of whom commute to campus.

"Students learn better when they interact and connect to a campus," he said. "The more vibrant it is, the more connected they are, the more successful they become."

IUPUI was founded in 1969 as a joint effort of Indiana University and Purdue University. The IU trustees have administrative oversight of the campus.

It's been 30 years since IUPUI last drafted a master plan. In the meantime, enrollment has surged and JJR projects it will hit 35,000 sometime in the next two decades.

Bantz wants to see 10 percent of those students living on campus. The school can accommodate 1,066 students now and would need to add space for 2,500 more.

More people spending more hours on campus would also create demand for retail services, according to market analysis performed for JJR by Canada-based Live Work Learn Play. The firm called for 120,000 square feet over 20 years, which IUPUI plans to split between two locations.

The first is on the ground floor of dorms and academic buildings that would surround an outdoor piazza envisioned for the intersection of University Boulevard and Vermont Street, just south of the Campus Center.

The second is across Indiana Avenue from the Madame Walker theater on what is now parking lots. At that location, IUPUI hopes to construct multistory buildings that would include shops, offices, student housing and parking garages.

It makes sense to Mark Perlstein, a retail broker at Sitehawk Retail Real Estate. He handles leasing at two nearby shopping centers, including Lockefield Commons at Indiana Avenue and 10th Street.

"There is a significant demand over supply. We have no vacancy there. As soon as something opens up, we have people waiting to go into the project," Perlstein said. "There's always a demand for restaurants. There's not enough of them."

One challenge for the retail area near the theater is that it is farther from the center of campus. Perlstein said proximity to workers and students is vital for downtown retail to work.

"Downtown retail can be very tricky. It can be very successful but it also can fail very quickly," Perlstein said. "You can't just put it there and wait for people to come. It has to be within walking distance of the student population and the daytime population."

IUPUI's proposed retail location along Indiana Avenue is remote from the rest of campus. However, Bantz hopes the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which will loop bicycle and walking lanes around that location by the end of 2011, brings steady streams of patrons.

Jukuri, from JJR, thinks it can succeed based on a similar mixed-use development in Columbus, Ohio, called the Ohio State University South Campus Gateway Project. It is a 315,000-square-foot mix of entertainment, restaurant, retail and office space, as well as apartments and parking. It sits on the southeast corner of the university campus and the outskirts of Columbus' downtown.

But again, IUPUI will have trouble getting patrons from downtown across West Street.

"Huge barrier," Bantz said about West Street. "How do we get across?"

The university explored building a pedestrian bridge across West Street a few years ago, Bantz said, but conversations with a potential donor didn't work out.

He said the IndyGo Red Line bus, which circulates downtown, helped. But in the future, the university might need something more modern, like an extension of the Clarian People Mover train.

Many city leaders have been thinking about bridging West Street to IUPUI, said Tamara Zahn, president of Indianapolis Downtown Inc.

"I don't think we have a clear solution, but we do want to make it safe for bicycles and pedestrians to cross safely at key points," she said. "What a tremendous opportunity for thinking about how we can engage the students of IUPUI and have them easily travel to all of the cultural destinations that Indianapolis has to offer."
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