Editorial: Circle Centre redevelopment promises to transform downtown

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As the late Mayor Bill Hudnut used to say: “You can’t be a suburb of nothing.”

Similarly, downtown Indianapolis was never going to realize its full potential until it solved the core hole left by the flailing and sprawling Circle Centre Mall.

The city made tremendous progress toward filling the gaping hole Wednesday when the Wisconsin-based firm behind Bottleworks District announced that it is has struck a deal to buy most of Circle Centre Mall from its original investors and plans to spend $600 million over the next decade to transform it into an open-air, pedestrian-focused campus with housing, offices and shopping.

As IBJ’s Mickey Shuey first reported, Hendricks Commercial Properties LLC also has a tentative agreement with Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration that could allow it to acquire the land under the mall, its parking garages and the former L.S. Ayres building at West Washington and South Meridian streets that anchors the mall’s northeast corner.

The mall, which opened in 1995, served the city well for many years and was a shopping and entertainment destination for downtown workers and visitors alike. But like many malls, it suffered greatly as more and more retail transactions moved online.

The mall became a shell of its former self. It offered some nice restaurants and some decent office space but left many storefronts vacant. And its lack of vitality threatened to hold downtown back from fully recovering from its COVID-19 slump and taking full advantage of the growing momentum from nearly $9 billion in development either already underway or expected to begin downtown in the next few years.

But the synergy that could build from regenerating the mall properties that now snake through downtown behind many old-style facades and border many other new developments promises to be transformative.

While there’s still a long way to go to bring the entire project to fruition, the Hogsett administration, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the mall owners and Hendricks Commercial Properties are all to be commended for putting the mall properties on a better path.

Hendricks plans to put $100 million into a first phase of the redevelopment, which will likely take place on the south-end block bordered by Illinois, Meridian, Georgia and Maryland streets. The first phase is expected to be finished in 2028, with the remainder redeveloped through about 2033.

That first phase will connect nicely with the nearby Indiana Convention Center expansion and the development of the 800-room, 40-story Signia by Hilton hotel.

But the project as a whole promises to tie together so many projects already on the books and will go a long way toward providing the housing and residents downtown needs to restore its vibrancy and provide the continual support restaurant and entertainment venues needed to sustain and grow the city’s all-important convention and tourism industry.

It will link nicely with the South Street expansion of the Cultural Trail, which will in turn improve access to the proposed Indy Eleven stadium and development district.

Ultimately, the new vision for the mall will fill the hole in the downtown doughnut and promises to make the city’s core vibrant and complete for another generation of residents, visitors, convention-goers and sports fans.•

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