REI Investments agrees to buy site of former GM stamping plant

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REI Investment Inc.’s plan to build a $40 million outdoor concert venue on a piece of the former General Motors Stamping Plant property west of downtown has cleared a major hurdle.

The group charged with selling the land announced Monday morning that it has reached an agreement with the local developer to purchase the entire 102-acre property for an undisclosed amount.

REI long has been presumed the favorite to redevelop the property, which the city also has identified to build a criminal justice center.

In July, IBJ reported that REI’s plan to build the 15,000-seat concert venue at the site had been chosen by the Michigan-based Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response, or RACER Trust.

“That’s such a choice piece of property that an outdoor venue of some type would be a good use for the community,” REI President Mike Wells told IBJ Monday morning. “If we can’t make that work, we’ll look at other alternatives that might work.”

RACER announced last summer that it would market the property for redevelopment and invited firms to submit proposals. Other local developers vying to redevelop the land were 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.

“I think the fact that we were leaning toward a public use, such as an outdoor venue, probably got more favorable consideration,” Wells said. “A lot of housing is being built downtown, and in terms of office and retail, the site’s a little isolated to make that work.”

It’s unclear what the plans would mean for nearby 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.

But Wells said he wants to work with the park once REI can discuss its actual plans for the site.

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

REI’s plans to redevelop the stamping plant property still need approval from the city, said Bruce Rasher, RACER’s redevelopment manager. RACER likely won’t close on the deal with REI until the middle of next year. It can't finalize the deal until REI reaches an agreement to sell the remaining portion of the property to the city for its criminal justice center.

RACER is under a confidentiality agreement and won’t disclose terms with REI until the sale is final.

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 property, at 340 S. White River Parkway,  is near Lucas Oil Stadium, Rasher noted, and it has more than a quarter mile of White River frontage.

The 2.1-million-square-foot stamping plant, which is being demolished, opened in 1930 and employed more than 5,000 at its peak. That number was fewer than 700 when it closed two years ago.

RACER was created on March 31, 2011, out of a bankruptcy court settlement with the 14 states where GM closed plants. The trust was charged with marketing 89 properties totaling more than 7,000 acres.

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