Four local firms vying to redevelop GM stamping plant site

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Four local firms are vying to redevelop the former General Motors metal-stamping plant near downtown, sources with knowledge of the discussions said.

Ambrose Property Group, Buckingham Cos., Keystone Group and REI Investments are the four finalists, sources said.

Details of their proposals for the 102-acre property are sketchy. The developers have signed a confidentiality agreement and are prohibited from discussing their plans.

But a local office broker familiar with one of the proposals said a suburban-type office park in an urban setting is among the plans that made the cut.

“I don’t know if the whole site needs to be that, but certainly that product would be well accepted by the market, especially for large users,” said John Robinson, managing director of Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle’s Indianapolis office.

Though the downtown vacancy rate for office space remains high, at about 20 percent, an office park would be attractive because its buildings could offer large floor plates and high ceilings, in addition to free parking, an amenity nearly unheard of downtown, Robinson said.

The Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, which is responsible for selling the site, wouldn't divulge information about the proposals.

“The trust will not announce the identity of the developers selected or anything about their plans until after we have selected one of the four parties to enter into detailed negotiations,” Bruce Rasher, RACER’s redevelopment manager, told IBJ.

Rasher declined to provide a timeframe for when a winner might be chosen but said the process is moving quickly.

Ypsilanti, Mich.-based RACER picked the four finalists from an original pool of 12 developers on a local, regional and national scale that it chose in August to submit bids to redevelop the property.

All four finalists vying to redevelop the site are well known within the local real estate sector.

Ambrose is partnering on several apartment projects with TWG Development LLC, including the redevelopment of the American and Consolidated buildings downtown on North Pennsylvania Street. The company also has developed industrial and retail projects.

Buckingham is developing the $155 million mixed-use CityWay project at Delaware and South streets, and has under contract a 2.4-acre parcel in downtown Zionsville for a project that could help transform the town’s Main Street.

Keystone led a $15 million parking garage and retail deal in Broad Ripple, and developed the $60 million mixed-use Sophia Square in Carmel. Its construction arm is acting as the city’s project manager on City Way.

And REI, along with Merrillville-based White Lodging, put its mark on the city by developing the J.W. Marriott hotel, which helped the city land the 2012 Super Bowl.

RACER took title to the property in March 2011, three months before the plant closed as part of GM’s bankruptcy. It marketed the property—with the building included—for more than two years but was unable to attract a suitable buyer, mostly because of the high cost of renovating the large plant.

Rasher said it became apparent that the real value of the property is in the land and not in the building, which actually was serving as an impediment to redevelopment. RACER is accepting proposals to demolish the 2.1 million-square-foot building.

RACER, meanwhile, is keeping the city informed about the process and plans to consult with leaders before making a decision on redevelopment.

“It would not make any sense for RACER to select a developer without assuring that the city is supportive of the plan,” Rasher said. “And so naturally we’re discussing with the city the various parties’ proposals."

City leaders prefer “something unique” because of the size and high-profile location of the site south of West Washington Street near the White River, said Deron Kintner, the city’s deputy mayor of economic development.

“We want something that will grow the pie for the city, so to speak,” he said.

Mayor Greg Ballard has said the site represents one of the “greatest redevelopment opportunities in the history of the city.”

The criteria RACER is considering in selecting a developer includes the price one is willing to pay for the property, how many jobs the proposal might create, and the reputation of the developer.

The plant opened in 1930 and employed more than 5,000 at its peak.

In 2011, the site was the subject of an Urban Land Institute study that recommended a mixed-use, mixed-income development that could become an extension of downtown. The report also suggested that a bridge across the White River connecting the site with downtown Indianapolis could create a landmark entry point to downtown.

As part of GM’s bankruptcy, RACER is charged with selling 200 properties in 89 locations in 14 states. It so far has completed 30 sales involving 800 acres of land, Rasher said.

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