City seeks to lead redevelopment of downtown IPS site


The city is seeking to get involved in the redevelopment of the prized Indianapolis Public Schools property at Massachusetts and College avenues, wanting to either buy the site or select the developer.

IPS’ Board of Commissioners had been scheduled to choose on Thursday one of five proposals to redevelop the site. But commissioners on Tuesday voted to delay the selection to allow district administrators more time to engage city officials in hopes of putting them “in the driver’s seat to make a selection,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said at the meeting.

The surprise move comes after months of discussions about the 11-acre site northeast of the intersection of College and Massachusetts avenues. The parcel includes a former Coca-Cola bottling plant and an IPS bus yard.

IPS first received proposals from developers in August and closed the bidding process in February. Commissioners last month were poised to make a selection but chose to postpone the vote after a few members expressed concern about not having enough time to review the bids.

Commissioners on Tuesday seemed to overwhelmingly support handing the reins to the city.

“We’re not developers, and we shouldn’t be in the development process,” Commissioner Kelly Bentley said.

Fellow Commissioner Sam Odle added: “Given what we know today, and the importance of the city’s participation, I think it behooves us to give the city a shot at this."

Whether the city actually buys the site or simply makes a recommendation to IPS on what it thinks is the best use for the land is uncertain, IPS Administrator David Rosenberg told IBJ.

“Nothing is off the table, but the deal has to make sense for IPS,” he said. “We’re certainly open to exploring any possibility.”

One of the big benefits of selling the property directly to the city is that the move would immediately put money in the pockets of IPS, Rosenberg said, rather than the district's having to wait for a developer to close on financing.

Developers are willing to pay $11 million to $18 million for the IPS land, according to their proposals, with most of the projects financed by a combination of bank loans, federal grants and tax-increment financing funds from the city.

The proposals range in cost from $106 million to $260 million, and typically call for a mix of office and retail space in addition to housing. Two proposals include hotels.

Jeff Bennett, deputy mayor of community development, called the IPS property one of the most important sites downtown.

“It is key to pushing development out to the Cottage Home neighborhood and farther east,” he said.

Bennett acknowledged the city is interested in buying the property. He said the impetus for the city’s involvement is contamination cleanup that needs to be performed.

The city is prepared to ready the site for development itself since all the proposals included a request for brownfield incentives, Bennett said.

IPS received six proposals from developers, including two from Milhaus Development LLC. Others were from Mass Ave Partners, led by Strategic Capital Partners; the team of Browning Investments and Flaherty & Collins Properties; and Hendricks Commercial Properties. Hageman Investments also submitted a bid, but it didn’t meet specifications and no longer is under consideration.

Except for Hendricks, bidders also are seeking city subsidies ranging from $6.5 million to $28.6 million to help offset development costs. The Hendricks proposal requests a $2.4 million subsidy for site remediation, but it's not clear whether the city or another governmental entity would provide it.

Strategic Capital said in an emailed statement that it’s aware of the city’s interest in the property and is “more than happy to continue the conversation with the decision-making group, whoever it might be.”

All the proposals call for a parking garage and incorporating the 285,000-square-foot Coca-Cola building, or at least its ornate art deco façade, into redevelopment plans.

To view all the proposals, click here.

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