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Editorial: City, IPS are smart to ditch status quo, rethink property needs

June 29, 2018

Thanks to Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, valuable downtown real estate that’s been missing from the tax rolls for more than half a century could land in private hands.

Hogsett, who has launched a comprehensive study of city government’s real estate needs, and Ferebee, who wants IPS to consider selling its headquarters at Delaware and Walnut streets, should be applauded for setting in motion these long-overdue evaluations of publicly owned property.

Downtown real estate, city government and public schools are radically different than they were 60 years ago, but government’s footprint has barely changed. City government has occupied the 28-story City-County Building since 1962; IPS completed its administration building in 1960.

At long last, IPS and the city are taking stock of their downtown holdings, a process that could have big implications for the future of the real estate in question and adjacent properties.

The city is spending $1.5 million to evaluate what should be done with the 735,000-square-foot City-County Building, the vacant Old City Hall at Alabama and Ohio streets, the Marion County Jail at 40 S. Alabama St., and a 500-space parking garage at Market and New Jersey streets.

Indianapolis-based Browning Real Estate LLC will conduct a space-planning analysis, a need set in motion by the $572 million criminal justice center planned for southeast of downtown. The center will replace the downtown jail and drain the City-County Building of its courts and related functions, leaving the building about half full.

The International Style structure, which replaced the ornate Marion County Courthouse, has never won much praise for its design. But private owners might be drawn to its central location and underground parking.

Whatever the Browning analysis recommends, the city should commit to keeping downtown both the Mayor’s Office and other departments, such as Metropolitan Development, that the public interacts with on a regular basis.

Everything else should be on the table. Attracting a headquarters office user to a renovated city building would be a game-changer for adjacent properties. The first block of Delaware Street with its collection of bail-bond businesses is sure to change once the courts and jail exit the Mile Square. That could happen on an even larger scale if the entire city building changes hands.

The area around Alabama and Walnut streets could also benefit if cash-strapped IPS decides to raise money by selling the 210,000-square-foot John Morton-Finney education center that sits on 1.7 acres at that intersection. The district will begin seeking reuse proposals from developers in late July or early August. The Cultural Trail, new apartments and renovated historic houses are just a few changes the neighborhood has seen since the last time the IPS site was in play.

City government and public entities like IPS are notorious for maintaining the status quo, so it’s refreshing when they contemplate major moves, such as selling their signature real estate. We applaud the leadership of both for thinking broadly about their needs and what’s best for their neighbors.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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