City focuses on streets in $30M natatorium plan

What began with city officials trying to figure out how to overhaul the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI in time for the 2016 U.S. Olympic diving trials has morphed into a $30 million deal to benefit the college campus and the near-west side, as well as Indianapolis' reputation as a hub for amateur sports.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard on Monday morning unveiled details of the plan, in which IUPUI and Lilly Endowment each contribute $10 million for the natatorium overhaul, sought by the Indiana Sports Corp. after the city was selected to host the diving trials in June 2016.

IBJ first reported on the proposal July 3.

Lilly Endowment has a history of contributing to projects that are difficult to justify when financed solely with taxpayer dollars. The endowment contributed, for example, to the construction of the Hoosier Dome before Indianapolis had a football team.

The city will tap the downtown tax-increment finance fund to reconfigure streets on the IUPUI campus and create better connections with neighborhoods west of campus and with downtown, east of campus.

Michigan and New York streets will be converted into two-way streets from West Street through the campus and across the bridge into Haughville. Those streets, as well as West Street between Michigan and New York, will be improved to include "safer pedestrian crossings and sidewalks, bike lanes, specialized lighting, decorative signage, public art, grass medians, trees and rain gardens," the city said.

Construction will begin in 2015 and is expected to last two years.

"Thousands of people enter and exit IUPUI for work, class and access to medical care every day,” Ballard said in a prepared statement. “These streets improvements will make it safer and easier for people to access campus and encourage investment and development in Haughville, Hawthorne and Stringtown from companies seeking to be near IUPUI and the growing IU Health complex.”

Improvements to the natatorium include a new roof, heating and cooling system, pool filtration, lighting, skylights and mechanical repairs.

The 220,000-square-foot facility was built in 1982 and is the nation's largest indoor swimming facility. It hosted the 1987 Pan Am Games and 13 U.S. Olympic trials in swimming, diving or synchronized swimming. More than 15 world records have been set at the facility.

City-County Council Democrats had objected to the city's initial plan to provide $10 million for the natatorium overhaul, saying the cash-strapped city should not be paying to renovate state property.

“Just as the  IUPUI campus has been an integral part of downtown Indianapolis for decades, the IU Natatorium has become one of the city’s signature sports venues over the last 30 years,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in a prepared statement. “Indiana University’s investment in the future of the natatorium is emblematic of our commitment to the city of Indianapolis. The planned improvements will allow the natatorium to provide swimmers and divers of all levels – as well as fans of the sports – with a world-class facility for years to come, further strengthening the strong partnership between IU and the city.”

Tom Morrison, IU vice president of capital planning and facilities, said the city's willingness to help IUPUI execute its master plan for Michigan and New York streets freed up the money it needed to match Lilly Endowment.

The mayor's chief of staff, Ryan Vaughn, said the endowment has always been at the table ready to contribute to the facility, which the endowment helped build in the first place. He said the deal came together about five months ago, but IU had to make formal application to the endowment for matching funds.

Department of Metropolitan Development Director Adam Thies said the Metropolitan Development Commission will be asked to vote Wednesday on the TIF money.

The project might end up costing the city less than $10 million, Thies said. Designs and engineering plans are yet to be worked out.


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