Mass Ave redevelopment reaches a roadblock

January 19, 2009

Indianapolis Public Schools is looking for a new redevelopment strategy for its 11-acre facility on Massachusetts Avenue afteran ambitious proposal for the historic former Coca-Cola bottling plant fizzled.

A development team consisting of locally based not-for-profit Riley Area Development Corp. and California-based PanattoniDevelopment Co. had pitched a $100 million mixed-use replacement for the IPS operations center and bus maintenance facility.In exchange for control of the land, they agreed to build IPS a new facility farther from downtown.

The complicated deal, which called for as many as 400 apartments and condos and 200,000 square feet of retail space, was considereda long shot by most observers even as it began to come together almost two years ago.

A final agreement never was reached between IPS and the development group, dubbed College Flats LLC, thanks in large partto a lack of available credit and a general distaste for such ambitious developments in a sour economy.

The developers still have until early February to put something together, but neither side expects that to happen. Panattonihas dropped out of the discussion entirely and in December shut down its local development operation.

"Nothing's going to happen down there for a while," said Bill Gray, the executive director at Riley, which has workedon severalmixed-use projects on Massachusetts, including The Davlan. "Not this year, next year or the year after next."

The school district likely will consider the possibility of another approach to development of the site, said Steve Young,IPS' facilities management chief. That may open opportunities for Browning Investments Inc. or Kite Realty Group, bidders that lost out during the initial search for a company to redevelop the property, which sits southeast of College Avenue and 10th Street.

The land and Art Deco Coca-Cola building appraised for $9.25 million in 2005. IPS decided against an outright sale, since it can't vacate the facility until a much-needed replacement is ready.

The district's board will consider options after the February deadline passes.

"We still have a need for something like that to happen and certainly there's still a desire within the city for that property to be used for some other fashion," Young said. "The limiting factor is still our need to have a facility we can move into and continue to operate."

Speculative development has come to a virtual standstill in central Indiana, meaning a reuse of the property could be years away.

The land swap component of the deal also made it more complicated to pull off, said Jim Thomas, a partner in Hearthview Residential,a developer that has done projects in the area but did not bid on the IPS deal.

"These very optimistic, visionary proposals, it's extremely difficult to attract financing," Thomas said. "The larger the development, the more challenging the financing environment."

A smaller proposal, for a $10 million mixed-use development across the street from the IPS site, still is moving forward,Gray said.

The project, dubbed Trailsides on Mass Ave, calls for 63 apartments, six condos and 25,000 square feet of retail space to replace a building owned by the Center Township Trustee. 

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