The city of Indianapolis hopes to move ahead this year with plans to renovate several CSX railroad overpasses adjacent to Union Station on the south side of downtown and the sidewalks and roads that run beneath them.
As IBJ reported in early 2023, the city has been eyeing improvements to five overpasses that line the southern border of the Mile Square, starting with the three railroad overpasses nearest Union Station—over Meridian Street, Illinois Street and Capitol Avenue—before pivoting attention to the Delaware and Pennsylvania street overpasses.
Work on at least one of the overpasses—either for Capitol Avenue or Illinois Street—could commence by the end of this year, with the others coming in 2025 or later. The city wants to update the overpasses and the corridors beneath them to make them more pedestrian-friendly, with the addition of new lighting, improved sidewalks and fixes to structural problems.
While a total project cost has not been finalized, the city has said the all-in total likely would exceed $10 million.
The project would include restoring many of the historic facades on the overpasses and make structural improvements to the bridges, while also adding protected bicycle lanes.
Each street running below the overpasses—including adjacent stretches in the open air—would undergo improvements, to cut down on vehicle parking, increase pedestrian access and pay homage to historical and cultural milestones in the city’s history.
Rusty Carr, who led the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development until Dec. 30, told IBJ late last year that the city likely would not close both Capitol and Illinois simultaneously, in hopes of limiting the impact on traffic flow around the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium and other south-end amenities.
A firm timeline for construction has not been finalized.
“We know it’s never a good time” to shut down an artery of downtown, Carr said. But the city wants to get the work done by the time construction of the Signia Hotel and an expansion to the convention center are complete just west of Union Station.
According to new filings with the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission—which has purview over the project because most of the underpasses are located in historic districts (as is Union Station itself)—the city has proposed lining the east side of the Illinois Street underpass with lighted metal sculptures, as well as both sides of the Meridian Street underpass. The west side of Illinois Street would feature display boxes, each ranging from 4-by-5-feet to 5-by-8-feet, for local artists to display their works.
The east side of Capitol Avenue would feature a hanging installation of 100 to 150 wire mesh pieces shaped like suitcases and baskets, with lighting installed around the pieces. The west side of Capitol would feature a projection piece showcasing various trains and other artwork. That installation would require eight to 10 projectors and also replicate the stained glass patterns found inside Union Station’s Grand Hall.
New streetscapes for Meridian Street—to the north and south of the overpass—are also up for consideration by the preservation commission. The changes include wider sidewalks and limited street parking, as well as extensive use of brick pavers. The proposal retains most of the trees proposed by the city when it went before the IHPC last year for a preliminary review of the project.
Carr said the city is working closely with the IHPC to ensure any changes made to the underpasses, or the station as a whole, are “done right.” If approved by the IHPC during its meeting on Wednesday, the city would be able to begin coordinating construction plans for at least one of the underpasses.
Separately, city officials are working with Indianapolis-based KenMarr—which secured a management contract for the property in 2023—to find a new tenant for the second floor of the Grand Hall space, where CHA Consulting Inc. was previously located.
Carr said the city has been in talks with multiple groups interested in the roughly 80,000-square-foot space, with a leasing decision likely to come later this year.
Another question: What becomes of the space in the station currently used by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s downtown district? IMPD is expected to move back into the City-County Building as part of a larger consolidation effort announced by the city last year.
A portion of the office suite abuts the deck spanning Meridian Street, which the city hopes to revamp into a public space capable of accommodating hundreds of people, food vendors and entertainment.
The city also conducting a facility assessment for Union Station in partnership with Indianapolis-based engineering consulting company Shrewsberry & Associates LLC to determine what improvements need to be made to the 135-year-old building in the coming years. That could also involve further coordination with state and federal agencies, along with railroad operator CSX, following the announcement that a new study is planned for expansion of Indianapolis-to-Chicago train service.
The study also will consider future uses for the parking lots between Union Station and South Street, which are often used for parking by those utilizing the trains, the Greyhound bus service or the depot’s other tenants, like the watering hole Nevermore.
“We’ve been very strategic about our land holdings downtown and moving these projects forward,” Carr said. “We think that there is an opportunity for some of that, relative to Union Station. We don’t know what that looks like yet, but I know it’s something that is really interesting as we contemplate the future of the South Street corridor as part of the Cultural Trail expansion and everything that’s happening with the Indiana Convention Center and hotel projects.”