Opt for the greatest impact

Keywords Opinion

Nearly two years have passed since Eli Lilly and Co. CEO John Lechleiter called for creating a “world-class” life sciences research institute in Indianapolis, and now the fledgling Indiana Biosciences Research Institute is on the verge of naming its first leader.

That choice of a chief executive, expected before Thanksgiving, will telegraph a critical signal about the ambition of the project, intended to bring together university and corporate scientists to develop medical therapies and companies. The large life sciences companies and research universities that created the institute should settle for nothing less than top-drawer talent.

The institute has another decision to make, however, which will also set a tone and will affect the city’s geography—namely where the institute makes its permanent home.

At least two suitors badly want the facility—the city, in its nascent 16 Downtown Technology Park at the northwestern edge of downtown, and nearby IUPUI. There may be others.

Of the locations bandied about publicly, 16 Tech has the greatest potential to improve the city. The institute and city should find a way to build a headquarters within the park consistent with the institute’s world-class intentions.

The city and Citizens Energy Group should wrap up their long-winded negotiations to enable the city to buy Citizens’ 19-acre water operations at 1220 Waterway Blvd. The site, in the middle of the park, offers a chance to make a bold, signature statement with office and possibly laboratory space.

The Citizens site isn’t perfect. It’s too far from the Indiana University School of Medicine and its key research faculty to be a convenient walk, but the problem can be solved with a good shuttle system.

Indiana University’s offer to land the institute at the former Wishard Hospital site has merit. The property, which IU took over after the hospital moved to a new campus, is only a short walk from the medical school and adjoins the southern edge of 16 Tech. To IU, the institute would be situated at a life sciences crossroads.

But the Wishard site would benefit the university more than the city as a whole. Housing the institute in the center of the park would further redevelopment that got off the ground with the conversion of Bush Stadium to apartments, among other projects.

It isn’t difficult to imagine some planners wanting to put the institute at or near Lilly’s campus south of downtown. But the 16 Tech corridor needs a boost more than the southern edge of downtown, which has enjoyed resurgence thanks to the CityWay development. Plus, the institute’s potential would be hamstrung if it were too closely associated with Lilly, one of a broad base of companies backing the effort.

Plunking the institute into 16 Tech isn’t the only viable choice. But given the facts available, it’s the best.•


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