Potential transformation of City Market could cost up to $35M, report says

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Indianapolis City Market (IBJ photo)

A full-scale transformation of Indianapolis City Market into a combined food hall, test kitchen and active-lifestyle hub could cost $22.1 million to $34.5 million, according to a newly released, long-anticipated study of the city-owned facility.

City officials presented the results of the 209-page report on potential options for redevelopment at a City Market special board meeting Thursday, along with concrete plans for an initial $5 million in maintenance and basic improvements.

In March, Indianapolis contracted CORE Planning Strategies, now part of New York-based consultancy J.S. Held, to do an extensive assessment of both the City Market’s condition and its possible future uses. The $222,000 contract was a package deal that included a similar study of Old City Hall.

“We really wanted to think big about what the future of the market was going to be, and assess where we are now,” Department of Metropolitan Development Director Scarlett Martin told IBJ Wednesday. “… As an anchor of the Market East District, what is the future of this site?”

The DMD handles the City Market’s $420,000 annual operational subsidy and leases the structure to the not-for-profit City Market Corporation, which manages operations.

Determining how the City Market fits into the larger Market East District has become a more pressing priority for the city in recent years, due to the pandemic and a major shift coming for the district’s workforce.

The historic marketplace has faced precipitous drops in its primary clientele—downtown office workers on lunch breaks—since the pandemic ushered in a new work-from-home era. And after the Community Justice Campus opens in the Twin Aire neighborhood in December, many of the market’s regular patrons who work in the nearby City-County building and in jobs related to criminal justice will be miles away.

Meanwhile, major reconstruction of East Market Street between Delaware and Alabama streets has obscured the market with tall metal fencing, reflective barriers and construction vehicles. A peek inside the market, located at 222 E. Market St., reveals a too-quiet hall dotted with vacant vendor spaces.

City officials want to reverse the trend.

City Market’s core—the brick and iron-framed market house that serves as the main food hall—is 135 years old. It’s flanked by two wings, which Indianapolis added in 1977.

J.S. Held’s assessment explores splitting the market complex into three more distinct parts, demolishing the bottom half of the two-floor “connector” hallways that lie between the market house and the add-ons.

It envisions the west wing—currently used as a co-working space with additional offices for not-for-profits—as a test kitchen and restaurant area. It would feature a new incarnation of the Tomlinson Tap Room, currently located on the mezzanine level of the market house.

The east wing would follow an “active lifestyle concept,” incorporating its existing bike commuter center, with indoor and outdoor play structures such as a climbing wall.

The market house would be revamped but continue to house vendors. The plazas in front would get makeovers, including a permanent shelter for City Market’s now-weekly farmers markets. The catacombs underneath the west plaza would get a lobby, flooring, an HVAC system and fire protection. The alley behind the market complex, East Wabash Street, would become a pedestrian-only outdoor dining hub.

City officials said J.S. Held’s proposed concepts had the potential to bring more people to the City Market, particularly families, and get them to stay longer.

“If there were a rock wall, or if there was a place where families could bring children and there was more family-friendly space, you might have people who come to the market for that, and then want to get lunch, or get coffee,” Martin said. “It’s bringing more density and purchasing power to the commercial use market itself.”

Carrying out the report’s recommended preventative maintenance and the proposed transformation could cost between $22.1 million and $34.5 million. Don’t expect to see a climbing wall at the City Market anytime soon.

“I’m probably more skeptical of some of the concepts than others,” said Indianapolis Controller Ken Clark, who also is treasurer of the City Market’s board.

Clark said Wednesday that accessibility in the food hall was “most intriguing” personally, and that the relocation of Tomlinson Taproom could help spur redevelopment of the west plaza—”especially once Market Street opens.”

Some of the more elaborate ideas, however, are likely financially “unrealistic” Clark said.

At Thursday’s special board meeting, officials announced the first phase of redevelopment: a $5 million city investment to shore up the building’s structure and make targeted renovations to restrooms and other accessibility basics. DMD plans to get the financial resolution to legislators before the end of October, Martin said Thursday.

Illinois-based subcontractor Wiss, Janney, Elstner (WJE) Associates conducted a structural, building envelope and fire protection analysis as part of the report. In detailed observations, the firm noted deterioration in many elements of the building, including brick walls and pavers; mortar joints; wall, roof and window sealants; roof drains and insulation; waterproofing membranes and more.

The $5 million in repairs and improvements will likely be done in phases and in overnight sessions to keep the market open.

City officials plan to release a request for information to developers to further explore options for the east wing and plaza. Like with the city’s recent RFI for the City-County Building, this one will ask for ideas on incorporating residential redevelopment.

The goal, in addition to reinvigorating the Market East District, is to eventually get the City Market standing on its own two feet and at least breaking even.

“We hope that these investments right now, the $5 million in improvements and accessibility paired with a strategic operational plan and better utilization of the wings, will lead to that future where it’s not the city subsidizing [the City Market] on an operational basis,” Martin said.

The city has final say on what happens to the City Market, but officials said they’d work closely with the market’s governing board on a 5- to 10-year strategic plan and future work. City Market’s board is looking at firms to lead the strategic planning process, Director Keisha Gray said Thursday, although results are months away.

“We wanted to get some idea of what’s feasible in there, and get some cost basis for you all as the board to consider as you’re [developing] the strategic plan and the operational plan,” DMD Deputy Director Rusty Carr told board members Thursday.

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24 thoughts on “Potential transformation of City Market could cost up to $35M, report says

  1. I love the idea of a City Market remake, but until they tackle the crime downtown, people will not want to go there or feel safe. It’s gangs and drugs; it’s time to lock these purps up and keep our citizens safe!

    1. I agree – although I wouldn’t say gangs are the issue, it’s mostly just crimes of opportunity with homeless checking car doors, theft, etc. although that does create the perception of a dangerous city. I live and work less than a mile from City Market. The problem, is that homelessness is out of control, road construction prevents both car and foot traffic as people avoid the area, the city is generally just dirty (a power washer on sidewalks, trash cans, etc. would go a long way) and there’s no real reason for a person to ever go “downtown” – which I refer to as the circle and immediate surrounding area. Mass Ave and the Fountain Square area are great and don’t feel like they’re even a part of the downtown area. It would help if Wheeler Mission wasn’t pushing everyone out of their facility every morning with no where to go so homeless just line the downtown streets. I’ve called 911 myself from Ohio & East because two people had overdosed along the side of the gas station.

    2. I’m Downtown on the circle and surrounding streets daily. I’m sick of the weed stench throughout the downtown area . It’s nauseating at times.

    3. Ever been to cincinnati? because they have rampant crime issues around Findlay market and its one of the best in the country…

    1. It would be foolish to think that petty gang members aren’t causing issues downtown. Not to say they are solely or even largely responsible, but believe it or not, they do exist.

  2. A state of the art elementary school costs less than $35,000,000. A positive way to fight crime is to draw people to stabilize the area. MAybe a downtown elementary would do that.

  3. Please save this meaningful building that is part of our city’s heritage! I’m glad the city is doing the work to be thoughtful about this downtown anchor. I love the Bottleworks food hall but I love the City Market more, and I want to see it given a fighting chance. A city is soulless without a thriving downtown… the City Market ought to remain at its heart.

  4. this has to done. If nothing else it is a tribute to all the people over the 36 years that have poured heart and soul into downtown. Is it perfect? No but that is not the point. Millions have been spent on bus lines and other “active” features for downtown.
    Get the money behind it. It wouldn’t hurt if some of the people that benefit to kick too. Even though his is primarily for those living and working downtown a robust downtown benefits the Colts and the Pacers and some of the other corporate entities. We don’t live on islands. It all impacts everyone and the I have always loved the
    City Market and the climate around it. Keep it relevant. And Yes, Mayor clean up some of the filth, not so much crime.

    1. The central market hall was at or near 100 percent capacity, prior to the COVID hit. It wasn’t a typical market (that had been tried several times over), but it also was not what I would call pathetic.

      I’m not sure if it can ever be a proper market again, as long as there are 3 different groceries downtown.

      Regardless, I hope it can turn around. Again.

    2. I loved going to City Market when I spent 5 years living downtown. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    3. Kevin, that assumes occupancy rates directly results in vibrancy or quality. It wasn’t a proper market before Whole Foods or the Kroger set up shop.

  5. One “wrong” move (as defined by BLM or other socialist thugs) by a police officer and our Mayor will let the city burn. I don’t have a short memory, my business will stay out of Marion County.

    1. Perfect, James. We don’t need folks with your elitist attitude in Indy. Stay in your suburb that would not even exist if it wasn’t for Indy!

    2. You only live in the suburbs because downtown was/is thriving. There wouldn’t be a large metropolitan area if Downtown Indianapolis didn’t exist. Stay out of Marion county. I don’t think people like you are welcome anymore.

  6. James you think the BLM movement are all socialist thugs? I think you ended your argument there. I’m sure you also think Jan 6 wasn’t an insurrection? This isn’t a political forum; I’m eager to see the city market perform. But keep complaining about about the city burning when you don’t care to see investment in our downtown to bring a better quality of life. Your negativity will take your business far.

  7. Love the Market Building but not sure what the answer is. It was never thriving, but it was functional. A series of gut punches include: no downtown workers, CCB exodus, repaving 2 city blocks, that for some reason takes a year, and yes, Libs, groups of criminals camped out at the front door right across from your mayor’s office IS a major deterrent. Hopefully the Tomlinson Tap survives. Event space is the current trendy thing, but doubt that can sustain the building (and where is parking?).
    Side note: what are the chances that 10 years from now, Bottleworks is in the same situation as City Market and Union Station?

  8. I would like to see an actual Farmer’s Market year round, inside the Market. Not just on the sidewalk on Summer Wednesdays. Other cities all over the country have indoor Farmer’s Markets, year round, and change their products with the seasons. Why can’t we? if we’re gong to invest money into this, I’d like to see an Indiana Farmer’s Market live up to its name.