Library puts off Ambassador decision

Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library board members couldn’t reach a consensus last night on who should get rights to develop two library-owned properties adjacent to its flagship downtown branch.

The library’s Board of Trustees met for more than two hours to discuss plans to redevelop the vacant Ambassador apartment building and property the library owns at 815 and 817 N. Pennsylvania Ave., now home to a one-story building and two parking lots.

When it came time to vote on a plan, the board tied 3-3. Trustee Jesse B. Lynch was absent.

“This is showing that we’re really trying hard to do this right,” said Gary Meyer, the board’s vice president. “Whatever we do is going to have an impact on future patrons, future employees and the neighborhood. We want to make sure it’s best for all parties.”

Three developers submitted plans. Van Rooy Properties and Buckingham Cos. both proposed a mixed-use project on the Ambassador site, with 60 high-end apartment units on the upper floors and retail space on the street level.

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

Buckingham offers to buy the Ambassador for $865,000. Plans call for spending $900,000 to $1.2 million to spruce it up and create “high-quality, market-rate” apartments that would rent for $800 to $1,000 per month. Buckingham also proposed buying the Pennsylvania Street properties for $620,000 and building a multi-story parking garage elsewhere.

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

In the other option, Van Rooy would pay $46,200 annually to lease 70 unassigned spaces within the garage. Under that scenario, it would not buy the Pennsylvania Street property.

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.

The library’s director of facilities management, Ed Olsen, studied the plans with an internal committee of library staffers and recommended last night that the board select Buckingham’s proposal.

He praised both Van Rooy and Buckingham for their extensive experience in the multi-family apartment market. But, in the end, he said his recommendation came down to parking.

“It was based on parking and do we want to get into a perpetual contract on parking in the garage,” he said.

Buckingham’s proposal doesn’t require the library to enter into an ongoing relationship, which the library appreciated, he said.

Olsen said the Van Rooy project would have given the library a new source of revenue, but he said the ongoing cost of additional security and maintenance remains to be seen.

Van Rooy’s proposal also includes numerous contingencies, such as a due diligence clause and another that states the library will pay a portion of closing costs. Olsen said the library’s request for proposal specifically stated that it would not incur additional costs.

Board member Mary Lou Rothe moved to accept the staff’s recommendation to give Buckingham rights to redevelop the properties. But when the vote ended in a tie, board members debated whether the library should simply table all of its options and create a new request for proposal.

Meyer said that would make sense, since it would let the library ask for more specifics on the parking situation.

During the meeting, he urged board members to think long and hard about whether it wanted to give outside parties’ long-term parking access in the underground garage.

If it did not, he said, it makes sense to accept the Buckingham proposal. But, if it did, he said the library should consider creating a new request, since adjacent parking could significantly increase the Ambassador’s value.

“We are not bid shopping,” he said. “I just want to make sure all the board members have all the facts and all the options and information on the table.”
Board member Richard K. Bacon voted against the Buckingham plan. He said the bids from all of the developers were simply too low.

With some renovations, the value of the properties would increase five times in just two or three years, he said.

“For what they’re going to recoup in the long run, they can give us more money,” he said. “This is my home. I’m not giving it away.”

However, the lack of resolution – and talks of reopening the process – brought audible sighs from some library staff members, who were hoping a decision would be made last night.

The library first requested bids on the project more than a year ago, Olsen said, but later rejected those because most of the proposals did not focus on redeveloping the Ambassador. The library submitted its current request for bids in April.

Instead of tabling all the current options, though, Rothe suggested that the library simply delay a vote on the current bids until next month’s board meeting, when all seven members can attend. That way, she said, the board could take another look at the bids and avoid a tie vote.

Representatives from both Van Rooy and Buckingham said they remain interested in the project, despite the delay.

“We’re already committed to the neighborhood and that commitment doesn’t change,” said Andrew Klineman, Buckingham’s chief legal counsel. “So we’re upbeat.”

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