Members of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday said they would be hesitant to support the design for a proposed $60 million, 22-story addition to downtown’s historic Morrison Opera Place building.
The proposal went before the commission for a preliminary review—meaning it was not up for a vote.
Owner Bruce Bodner has proposed transforming the four-story, 149-year-old building at 49 S. Meridian St. into a 240-room “lifestyle” hotel with 32 additional residential units, along with meeting space, a signature restaurant and a bar.
W. Bruce Stauffer, vice president of the commission, did not mince words when sharing his thoughts about the concept.
“This, to me, is a brutal proposal,” he said. “It makes no attempt to have any connection with the Wholesale District.”
Constructing an addition to the building—which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979—would require the demolition of a small portion of the existing building and the addition of structural pillars to support the 22-story tower. Bodner said the exterior of the existing building would be maintained.
There would be a 27-foot horizontal gap between the top of the existing 43,777-square-foot structure and the bottom floor of the towering addition.
The project, which is unlike any others to be built in Indianapolis, would ultimately require approval from the IHPC to move forward.
The proposal was presented by Ratio Architects, which has been commissioned for the project.
While many members of the commission said they are open to an addition to the building, they expressed concern that the design would disrupt the aesthetic appeal of the historic downtown Wholesale District.
Stauffer said while he could support an addition, the existing proposal is too tall for his taste—something echoed by most of the other commission members. He also said the design “makes no effort” to blend in with the nearby properties.
Several commission members also said they didn’t feel the design meshed with the rest of the district.
At least one board member, Susan Williams, said she doesn’t expect she would vote in favor of the project if it comes up for an IHPC vote.
“My problem with this specific project… [is] where it is, it seems totally out of context to me,” she said. “I don’t see how I can get there with this project, on this building, at this height. I’m willing to listen and think about modifications—maybe bringing it down a little bit. [Otherwise,] I just don’t see myself getting there.”
Alex White, treasurer for the commission, said he doesn’t have concerns with the height, but said the concept needed to be fine-tuned before it was brought back for a vote.
“I’m in favor of the overall premise of doing something this large, but I don’t know that the idea is totally measured-out or represented in a way that is absolutely there yet, in my mind,” he said.
Bodner, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he was appreciative of the IHPC’s feedback, and he plans to work with the design team to determine a path forward for the project and consider what changes could be made.
“I think they offered a lot of valuable insight, and they all have a great deal of knowledge,” he said. “They gave us a lot to think about.”
Bodner said he still plans to move forward with the development. A formal IHPC hearing on the project (which would include a vote) has not yet been scheduled.
The building, which housed a Hard Rock Cafe for 20 years until the restaurant’s closure this year, is home to a handful of tenants—most notably Kenzie Academy, which occupies parts of the second and third floors.
Bodner told IBJ this week he has received a great deal of interest from restaurants interested in the old Hard Rock space, but isn’t moving forward with signing a lease until determining what will happen with the proposed hotel project.
Plans now call for hotel rooms, averaging about 338 square feet each, to be on floors five through 17, with residential units on floors 18 through 26 that range from 1,750 to 2,000 square feet each.
The first floor would feature a restaurant and a separate entrance for the building’s permanent residences. The second floor would house the hotel lobby. The third floor would contain meeting space and back-of-house operations. The fourth would have a fitness center, a lounge and a bar area.