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URBAN DESIGN: Downtown Indy could take big strides in 2017

January 14, 2017

gallagher-urbandesign.jpgWhile I think most of us were happy to see 2016 come to a close, it wasn’t without a few positive urban design moments. The city has a new, forward-thinking zoning code. The Julia M. Carson Transit Center has brought energy to a previously desolate part of downtown, and we passed the referendum that gives us an opportunity to begin building a functional public transit system.

A palpable local and entrepreneurial spirit brought surges in urban districts, particularly Fountain Square and Mass Ave. More than anything, the previous year was one where groundwork was laid for things worth looking for in and around downtown in 2017.

Here’s what to look for in the year ahead: 

■ Using it as a bus storage and maintenance facility, IPS has owned the former Coca-Cola Bottling plant near the corner of Massachusetts and College avenues for nearly 50 years. After numerous attempts over the last 15 years to incorporate this unique and beautiful set of buildings into the fabric of the burgeoning Mass Ave district, it appears the planets have finally aligned. Hendricks Commercial Properties’ $260 million redevelopment of the site with housing, retail and hotel space could begin before year’s end.

■ You might not know the name Market East, but you will soon be familiar with the Cultural District. The completion of two anchor projects in 2017, 360 Market Square and the Cummins distribution headquarters, fills a significant gap in downtown brought about by the demolition of Market Square Arena 16 years ago. A Whole Foods is slated for 360 Market Square, and a 21c Museum Hotel is still being planned for the old City Hall at Alabama and Ohio streets. Will there be an announcement this year about the Marion County jail leaving the district?

■ The South Street corridor has seen steady improvement since the completion of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008. The trend will continue this year with the next phase of City Way scheduled to start soon. With no more coal going to the Perry K steam-generation plant, is this the year the city will take a serious look at the opportunity presented by the elevated rail line infrastructure on the south edge of downtown?

■ Once again in 2017, focus will be on areas west of the White River, stimulated in part by the Great Places 2020 initiative, renewed attention to the river, and growth at IUPUI. Thanks to the Lilly Endowment, the Indianapolis Zoo will open its Bicentennial Pavilion, bringing improved public space and an engaging macaw exhibit to the zoo’s collection of conservation-minded venues. Additionally, new proposals will be released for the redevelopment of the former GM stamping plant.

■ Perhaps to its benefit, the northwest quadrant of downtown has been the slow- change district. Excitement will be renewed this year as major influences will come to bear. IUPUI continues its advancement as an urban university and the conversion of Michigan Street from one-way to two-way will advance its aspirations of becoming a pedestrian campus. Signs of the modernization Indiana University Health will bring to the Methodist Hospital campus will become evident in 2017. And Phoenix Theatre’s new building at Illinois Street and the Cultural Trail will add to the Stutz building to turn up the area’s arts vibe. Can these forces combine to give form to the kind of gritty and authentic district downtown needs?

■ Throughout downtown, you will see the continued conversion of parking lots into mixed-use projects. Some of them could be more than the next iteration of the “4 over 1” building type that has become the default response for new investment.

Here are hopes for the new year as well:

■ In 2017, the city will create a position within the Department of Metropolitan Development: chief design officer. May this person be given license to be an activator more than an administrator, the strength to bring consistency and elevation to the design of our urban places, and the opportunity to provide vision beyond the planning.

■ With construction of the Red Line Rapid Transit lanes beginning and intentions of new federal leadership becoming clear, infrastructure will be on our minds. I hope this will lead to addressing our streets as public places and to renewed discussions of alternate forms of transportation, including high-speed rail.

■ It is my sincere hope that there will be another IN Light IN festival this summer. The lights, art installations and performances that activated the canal last summer are worth a reprise. The event was billed as a celebration of the 100th year of the Indianapolis Foundation, but it was also a demonstration of the city’s bottled-up potential. Let’s do it again.

All the best to you in 2017.•

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Gallagher is an urban designer with Ratio.

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