IHPC members pan design of proposed 22-story addition to Morrison Opera Place

The hotel atop the Morrison Opera House building would have 240 rooms. The addition also would have residential space. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Indianapolis)

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.

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20 thoughts on “IHPC members pan design of proposed 22-story addition to Morrison Opera Place

  1. A developer wants to make use of the underutilized building and some old non progressive backward thinking Hoosiers want to halt the growth of downtown Indy. No wonder places like Nashville and Columbus Ohio surpassed Indy. Will Indy ever grow vertical and stop with this nonsense of preserving old buildings that aren’t being used.

    1. Well, it could be argued they are ahead of us because they preserved their history and embrace it while Indy bulldozed the majority of it in the 80s & 90s…

      Also, you are looking too far for a comparison. Cincinnati is the largest closest similar city to us and it currently just blowing us away in most regards… :/

    2. James, have you ever even been to Cincinnati? I can think of NO way that Cinci is “blowing” us away… none.

      That said, i think the IHPC is way to self-important for their own good. They are old fashioned and entirely too conservative and have way too much influence on development in this city. They are holding us back.

    3. Gee, Kev, you would think Colombus & Nashville lack historic preservation laws or zoning. Oh, wait, they have both! Neither of the cities you seem to be so enamored with approve every development proposed, nor do they just lay down and let developers have their way. They have laws and they enforce them. Indianapolis will do just fine enforcing its own laws. You will find the developers simply have to alter their proposal to meet the requirements of the law. It happens all the time. If you are really so worried about this one development being sent back to the drawing board, you can always move.

  2. I don’t think the height is that big of a deal, and the arched windows are great nod to the historic building below, but I will have to say the diagonal arrangement of the windows is jarring with such a traditional material and the arched windows. If the windows were in a more formal arrangement, or the material was something like stainless steel, you might get this to fly. I applaud the vision and I hope IHPC will to, but sometimes feedback can be important.

    1. Well, they have a much more interconnected downtown (minus the failed streetcar that politicians ruined), they have all 5 forms of art that are thriving (we have 3), they have more fortune 500 companies per capita than anywhere else in the country aside from Minneapolis.

      The city is healthier than us, its population is growing faster than us, their downtown is packed with people on the weekends, Indy struggles outside of major events, etc.

      I love Indy, and I love how much it has grown in the last decade, but Cincy & Indy are on the almost identically same path but Cincy is about 5 years ahead of us…

    2. James, a more “interconnected downtown”? I travel quite a bit and as much as I think Indy could do better, I’ve come across few cities with a more walkable, accessible downtown area.

      And pardon my ignorance, but what, exactly, are the “5 forms of art” of which we have only 3? Google fails me on this one…

    3. James, you may want to double-check your statistics on population growth. Pretty sure the Indy MSA has been growing faster than Cincy since the turn of the century, if not sooner. I definitely haven’t ever felt Cincy blowing away Indy at anything whenever I’ve visited, unless something radical has changed since I left the Midwest 3 years ago. Their natural landscape blows Indy’s out of the water, but there isn’t anything Indy can do to fix that.

  3. Kevin – I didn’t see anything in the proposal or in the commission’s discussion that even hints at halting the growth of Downtown. What I do see are lots of comments about making this building blend more with the historic district. Right now the design is somewhat jarring an shouts “look at me.” It’s crying out for attention. OK in a non-historic setting…but not here.
    Go back and look at the rendering – specifically at the tall, former bank building to the left. No need to duplicate its design, but something more appealing is needed. The real travesty is the parking structure next door.

  4. Not a single one of them said they want to stop development; they want to stop the creation of an ugly addition that adds nothing to the character of the area. It’s possible to add an attractive addition. This design isn’t it.

  5. I thought in past years they were against developers trying to make new buildings look like old buildings? I personally love this design instead of just another boring plain box. And just because one person on the board doesnt like the height then everyone should have to also not like the height?

  6. Oh thank goodness. As I said before, it looks like it was designed by a 2nd year architectural student.

    With that said, I have my suspicions that developers often present the worst they possibly can the first time around, so that in subsequent redesigns they can get exactly what they want. Sometimes, “that’s so much better” is easier than “that’s really good”. The result is that you end up with “OK” architecture, instead of good architecture. Just a hypothesis.

  7. For once I have to agree with the IHPC. The aesthetics as seen in the rendering are indeed “brutal” (i.e., as ugly as the Minton-Capehart federal building). There is nothing compelling about the addition as shown atop of the 1870s era opera house to make me say “remarkable” as a compliment. Instead of going modern, the architect would be wiser to approach the addition with a sleek but symmetrical style that keeps the design elements and facade color similar to and consistent with the historic base. Doing so would evoke a “well done” salute from this observer.

  8. Heaven forfend that a building should be designed to say “Look at me!” Thank God we have the IHPC to committee-design anything outstanding down to some lowest common denominator. And by the way, the Minton Capehart Federal Building is a masterpiece, akin to the Barton Tower, which was ruined with IHPC support.

    1. The Minton-Capehart is a nicely designed building, but it is as much of a “masterpiece” as my uncle’s paintings, which are lovely, but no grand master’s work. That said the Mineton-Capehart building blows this proposed hunk of junk out of the water. Thank God, as weak as its laws may be, Indy at least has some zoning and historic preservation standards. The IHPC has saved what little bit of Indy’s attractive architectural heritage remains.

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