EXCLUSIVE: $480M downtown project in works

A development team is finalizing plans for a $480 million mixed-use project that calls for condos, as many as three hotels, a theater and 175,000 square feet of retail space just south of downtown.

The project, Legends District-SODO, could be one of the largest private developments in the city’s history. It would sprawl over 11 acres that are now home to several parking lots, Subway and Arby’s restaurants and the former Chateau Thomas Winery.

For the last two years, The Legends Entertainment LLC has quietly put several properties under contract. It now controls all the land and recently closed on the first parcel, a 1.2-acre parking lot at the southeast corner of South Street and Madison Avenue, for $3.5 million.

The lead developer is Ryan Zickler, principal of Indianapolis-based Zickler Associates. Other partners are Tim Shrout, president of locally based Cedar Run Ltd., the developer of Heartland Crossing; and Doug Mennen, principal of Lafayette-based Mennen-Gutwein LLC.

“This gives the city an asset, makes Indianapolis more of a destination,” Zickler said. “It elevates our cultural awareness. This will put our arts and entertainment on the map.”

The vision is for an independent downtown destination-full of shops, hotel rooms, a concert venue and condos-that would honor Indiana’s legends in sports, arts, entertainment and politics. Renderings show a series of giant outdoor television screens and ribbon-screens, in the spirit of Times Square, that would show clips of Hoosier legends such as Larry Bird, David Letterman, John Mellencamp and the Andretti family. A walk of fame and statues also are planned.

The SODO part of the name refers to South of Downtown. The project would be south of South Street from Madison Avenue to the railroad tracks, and to the south past Merrill Street.

The project’s retail portion will be designed to complement Circle Centre mall. The developers are targeting retailers such as Target, Dick’s and Best Buy, along with casual and upscale restaurants. The project would have 2,200 parking spaces, most of which would be underground. The three hotels would have a total of about 500 rooms.

Zickler said the $480-million price would cover the first phase of the project. The development team is putting together financing and talking with potential partners, including Dave Lucas, the CEO of Live-360, who developed Deer Creek and other concert venues.

The development team plans to meet with Mayor-elect Greg Ballard, and hopes to win tax abatements in exchange for a potentially giant boost to the city’s tax rolls. The developers hope to begin construction in the fall of 2008 and finish by the end of 2009.

“We don’t want just a piece of the Wholesale District,” Shrout said. “We need to be a totally different destination.”

To discuss the Legends District project, visit IBJ’‘s real estate blog, Property Lines.

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