State opens downtown parking lots to development

Indiana could open its downtown Indianapolis real estate to redevelopment while privatizing the management of its parking lots and garages.

In a request for information posted this week, the Indiana Finance Authority seeks “creative solutions” for the state’s parking needs, which include the construction of 625 more spaces.

Proposals due Nov. 15 could cover one or all of three state-owned facilities, which contain 6,096 spaces and generate more than $1 million a year from special events. The facilities are two garages—one on West Washington Street and one on North Senate Avenue—and a surface lot north of the Statehouse.

The real attraction, though, might be the chance to develop retail, office or other uses on 0.6 acres adjacent to the Washington Street Garage, as well as on the the 3.2-acre surface parking lot.

“I think it’s good they’re going down that road,” Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber said of the RFI. “With the completion of the JW Marriott, the site is much more strategic than it would have been five years ago.”

By itself, the opportunity to manage the garages might not lure many responses because the main occupants are state employees who park for free, said Fred Laughlin, vice president of management services at Indianapolis Downtown Inc. "It’s awful hard to run a parking operation just on special events, but it can be done,” he said.

It would be even more difficult to finance construction of additional parking spaces when revenue is limited to special events, Laughlin said.

That hurdle could be offset by the real-estate development opportunity. The surface lot north of the Statehouse may turn out to be more attractive than the West Washington Street site, Laughlin said.

The state is looking to expand the Washington Street garage, which has 2,842 spaces, and wants to see retail, offices or other “creative solutions” on the first floor of a six-story structure.

A developer could also build above the sixth floor. “There are no preconceived notions as to what additional structures or uses may be added to the basic garage expansion, and respondents are free to be creative,” the RFI states.

Anyone who operates the Washington Street garage would also have to abide by two agreements that cover three connectors to the JW Marriott, Indiana Convention Center and Indianapolis Marriott Downtown.

There is also a memorandum of understanding in place until July 31, 2017, providing for use of the garage during Indianapolis Colts home games. This year, the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority is using 500 spaces on game days, but the number can be as high as 1,750.

The state hopes to redevelop the surface lot while not losing any of its 537 parking spaces. Again, the RFI encourages respondents to be creative and says there are no preconceived notions about what uses are ideal. Building designs and landscaping at both sites should be compatible with the Statehouse and Indiana Government Center, according to the RFI.

The Indiana Finance Authority isn't limiting its privatization effort to facilities serving government buildings. The RFI asks respondents to discuss how their proposals would change if they were also allowed to manage the White River State Park garage and a surface lot across Washington Street from Victory Field.

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