New downtown concert venue to seat 15,000

An outdoor concert venue soon will take center stage on the site of the former General Motors metal-stamping plant on the western edge of downtown, sources tell IBJ as plans for the facility firm up.

An official announcement that the concert venue will be part of the GM site's redevelopment plan is expected within weeks, people familiar with the project said. It will have capacity for 15,000 people, according to one source.

Ground could be broken as soon as December. The amphitheater will share the 102-acre GM site with a proposed Marion County criminal justice complex.

The criminal justice center, which will replace jail, court and other law-enforcement facilities now located in the southeast quadrant of downtown, could cost as much as $500 million and is estimated to take about 40 acres of the site.

IBJ reported in January that a proposal from local developer REI Investments to build an outdoor concert venue had emerged as the favorite in a bid to redevelop the former GM stamping plant site.

REI President Mike Wells declined to comment Tuesday on the progess of those plans, citing a confidentiality agreement with the Michigan-based Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response, or RACER Trust, the entity charged with selling the site. RACER officials said they would not comment until negotiations are complete.

REI’s plans for an amphitheater have the support of the city, said Deron Kintner, deputy mayor for economic development.

“I had always assumed the concert venue was moving forward,” he said. “I think they’re probably working toward a decision, but I wouldn’t want to assume where they are in the process.”

The timing finally might be right to build a large concert venue downtown. The original plan for Deer Creek Music Center in Noblesville (now Klipsch Music Center) called for it to be downtown. But a slow approval process and opposition from residents derailed that version of the project.

And the concert industry appears to be rebounding from the recession and posting strong sales. The 24,000-seat Klipsch facility sold almost 570,000 tickets to 34 shows last year, the most in recent history, while ticket sales were up 60 percent from 2011 when it scheduled about 10 fewer events, IBJ reported in June.

It’s unclear what the plans would mean for White River State Park, whose development commission is exploring $10 million in construction improvements to the Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn at White River State Park, which has hosted concerts since 2004. Calls to park Executive Director Robert Whitt were not returned.

Three other developers were vying to redevelop the GM property: Ambrose Property Group, Buckingham Cos. and Keystone Group.

Plans from Ambrose and Buckingham primarily were mixed-use developments with office, residential and retail components, while the proposal from Keystone contained plans for a soccer stadium where the fledgling Indy Eleven soccer team could play.

REI has a long track record of developing projects downtown. It recently developed the JW Marriott-anchored hotel campus on the west side of the Mile Square with Merrillville-based White Lodging, helping the city land the 2012 Super Bowl.

The city of Indianapolis, meanwhile, likely won’t select a developer for the justice center until later this year, said Adam Collins, deputy director of the bond bank.

“What we’re looking at today is probably a November selection with approval coming sometime at the end of this year or beginning of next year,” he said. “Right now we’re focused on getting the RFP [request for proposals] to bidders so that we have bids that come in that are highly competitive.”

Three development teams have been asked to design plans that include 34 criminal court/hearing rooms and offices for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the Probation Department.

The center is expected to include a 3,500-bed detention facility (an increase of 1,100 beds from current capacity), 750 community correction beds (a 250-bed increase), 1,500 parking spaces and room for future expansion.

Construction of the justice center should be finished by the end of 2018, Collins said.

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