Former City Hall could reopen for planning work

Vacant for the past six years, Old City Hall could return to active life in 2014.

Department of Metropolitan Development Director Adam Thies hopes to launch a county-wide planning effort, and he wants it to take place on the first floor of the century-old Neoclassical building at 202 N. Alabama St.

“I’m eager to do planning in a space that’s inspirational,” Thies said.

The Metropolitan Development Commission will vote Oct. 16 whether to authorize spending $150,000 from the department’s redevelopment general fund to make the building inhabitable for offices and meeting space—in all about 9,000 square feet.

The $150,000 would cover a laundry list of repairs, including putting chillers in working order and opening three large windows blocked by drywall and masonry, plus a year of cleaning and maintenance.

Thies is still trying to line up a grant that would cover the cost of updating Marion County’s comprehensive plan, which dates to 2004. He anticipates that two or three city planners, plus graduate student assistants, would be stationed at Old City Hall, which would also receive “thousands” of involved citizens over the course of the year.

On Wednesday, Thies announced that he’d hired Brad Beaubien, director of the Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning Indianapolis Center, as the city’s new planning administrator. With the upcoming retirement of longtime administrator Mike Peoni, Thies is splitting the position in two. Former DMD chief Maury Plambeck will oversee zoning, while Beaubien focuses on planning.  

Historic preservation experts will gather in Old City Hall for a design charrette during the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference, to be held in Indianapolis Oct. 29 to Nov. 2. They plan to brainstorm new uses for the historic structure.

Thies said those efforts are welcome, but considering that it would take millions in upgrades to find a permanent reuse for the building, he thinks his is a good interim plan. He hopes that having the building open and occupied will help market it to a long-term user.

The building was designed by local architectural firm Rubush and Hunter, responsible for many landmark structures in downtown Indianapolis in the early 20th century. Its cornerstone was laid on July 27, 1909, according to "The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis." The building opened in December 1910.

City and county offices consolidated in 1962 in the new City-County Building at 200 E. Washington St. In 1966, the old City Hall began a decades-long stint as the Indiana State Museum.

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