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Library officials delay Ambassador recommendation

June 11, 2008

Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library officials yesterday said they need more time to make a recommendation on who should redevelop two library-owned properties adjacent to its flagship downtown branch.

Library officials have been reviewing three proposals for both the Ambassador apartment building and property the library owns at 815 and 817 N. Pennsylvania St., now home to a single-story building and two parking lots.

The library's director of facilities management, Ed Olsen, was expected to present the library staff's recommendation at last night's Board of Trustees' Building Committee meeting. But that didn't happen.

At the nearly two-hour meeting, developers presented their projects and fielded plenty of questions about their proposals. Their answers shed new light on some plans, said Gary Meyer, the chairman of the building committee.

So the building committee sent the plans back to Olsen and his staff for further review. The library board is still schedule to make a final decision on the project at its June 19 meeting.

"Our goal is to deliberate and diligently make a decision that meets the fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer," Meyer said.

Olsen declined to specifically say what new information came up that may influence his staff's recommendation. Most of the questions at the meeting focused on the issue of parking and on the developers' renovation plans for the Ambassador.

Van Rooy Properties and Buckingham Cos. both propose mixed-use projects on the Ambassador site, with street-level retail and commercial space and 60 one-bedroom apartment units on the upper floors.

Van Rooy proposes to purchase the building for $1 million and spend another $3.7 million to update the interior and add features such as a business center, fitness room and a movie theater for residents.

In Buckingham's proposal, the company offers to buy the Ambassador for $865,000. Plans call for spending $900,000-$1.2 million to spruce it up and create "high-quality, market-rate" apartments that would rent from $800 to $1,000 per month. Buckingham also proposes to purchase the Pennsylvania Street properties for $620,000 and would build a multi-story parking garage elsewhere.

Van Rooy, for its part, listed two separate options for parking. Under one scenario, the company would purchase the Pennsylvania Street lots for $350,000 and lease them back to the library for $1 per year and free parking for Ambassador tenants in the Central Library's underground garage.

In the other option, it would pay $46,200 annually to lease 70 unassigned spaces within the garage and would not purchase the Pennsylvania Street property.

The company also said that it wants to build an elevator and an enclosed walkway on the west side of the Ambassador building to link the apartments to the Central Library garage.

A third plan, submitted by independent developer and landlord Edward D. Gutting, proposes to purchase only the vacant lots on Pennsylvania Street for $471,101. He said the parking spaces could then be leased back to the library for staff parking at an amount to be determined in the future.

At the meeting, building committee members asked Van Rooy representatives to explain where the proposed elevator shaft would go into the underground garage.

Russ Seiler, Van Rooy's vice president of finance and development, said the company would renovate the existing service elevator in the garage so it could be used by both the library's maintenance staff and Ambassador tenants.

That brought laughs from some building committee members, who explained that the service elevator is used to transport garbage from the six-story library and its café. Seiler responded by saying that Van Rooy has a responsive maintenance staff to keep the elevator clean.

A few building committee members also seemed to express interest when Van Rooy explained that, under its second parking option, the company would not be interested in the Pennsylvania Street lots. That would leave the property open for another developer, presumably Gutting, to purchase.

Buckingham is only interested in buying both the Ambassador and Pennsylvania Street lots together, said Andy Klineman, Buckingham's senior legal counsel.

Meyer said he wants to find the best combination of properties to meet the needs of the neighborhood and the library.

"We want to make this decision quickly, but we want to be as diligent as possible," he said.

Staffers will keep reviewing the plans to come up with a recommendation, Olsen said.

"I'd rather do it this way and not make a mistake," he said. "It's a very tough decision for the library."

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