An entertainment facility planned for the west bank of the White River, next door to Lilly Technology Center’s north campus, could be a shot in the arm for an area that is just outside downtown but still close enough to serve conventioneers and other downtown visitors.
Owners of the $30 million Back 9 Golf and Entertainment venue broke ground Wednesday at a 2.6-acre site on the southeast corner of Drover and West Morris streets. Back 9 will feature a three-story building with 75 golf bays—each able to accommodate up to eight people—a 350-person music pavilion, and a handful of bars and restaurant spaces, as well as meeting areas and a game area.
Steve Alexander, a partner in ownership group MWA Drover LLC, said the project is meant to help connect the river to the Old Southside and Stadium Village neighborhoods just to the east.
“Where other facilities are usually located in suburban environments, near strip malls and interstates, we’re uniquely focused on the outdoor relationship and the site’s proximity to downtown,” he said. “We see a lot of potential with the [White River] Trail and even waterfront sports that could become part of the project in the future.”
Alexander said the move to bring Back 9 to the river is a “deliberate effort” to connect the river to central Indiana residents and visitors and to create opportunities to keep people downtown longer—including families visiting the Indianapolis Zoo or other museums and groups already in the area for Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers games.
In fact, the ownership group is marketing the facility as “downtown Indianapolis’ fourth stadium,” joining Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Victory Field, Alexander said. It will also have a direct connection to the White River Trail and the river itself—down to the water’s edge—which isn’t the case for other amenities along the river, including the zoo and the new amphitheater at White River State Park.
“You’ll be able to walk out and go down to put your foot in the water, if you want,” Alexander said. “We’re really hoping this interests people in getting down to the water.”
He said Back 9 also plans to feature live music several nights a week, as well, albeit at a significantly smaller capacity than the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park or at the downtown stadiums. Instead, the focus will be on local musicians.
The three-story property will also have two outdoor patios oriented toward the music pavilion, each holding up to 150 people.
Back 9 will be able to accommodate smaller events, too—generally under a few hundred people—as well as corporate outings, Alexander said.
Debbie Locklear, president of Meeting Services Unlimited, an Indianapolis firm that specializes in small conventions and event management, said the venue’s location means it will likely draw from sporting events and large conventions, while also attracting locals looking for an excuse to visit downtown.
Locklear said the venue will also be a viable substitute to TopGolf in Fishers when convention groups are looking for something to do. The Hamilton County location requires extensive shuttling, which can drive up costs for larger out-of-town groups looking for outings and networking opportunities in conjunction with their events.
“This will be an attraction—something we can offer as an alternative location for receptions and outings,” she said. “It really lends itself to being a lot of different things that would be attractive to attendees.”
Kyle Kinnett, owner of Bullseye Event Group and the Bullseye Event Center east of Lucas Oil Stadium, agreed.
“This will be a completely different option” from the event centers already downtown, he said. “They will fight for the business with the likes of Punchbowl Social, and I think that they’ll win a lot of business because it’s an interactive experience.”
On Tuesday, X-Golf, a Carmel-based firm, announced plans for a virtual golfing venue at the Shops at Perry Crossing. That venue will occupy about 7,800 square feet and cost up to $600,000 to build out. Franchisee Jared Perras told IBJ he is also considering opening a space downtown.
Alexander said he would welcome such a concept downtown, because it will be different from what Back 9 will offer. He also said he’s supportive of any new entertainment offerings that can be brought to the downtown corridor.
“The more experiential retail that’s developed, the more beneficial it is to downtown’s entertainment market,” he said. “If you can get a critical mass of those things happening … it plays into the evolution of downtown as a place to go. We are always thrilled to have more sporting activities and opportunities here.”
Alexander said he’s confident the project will also result in additional development along the river.
“One of our objectives is linking those demand generators together with activities and trying to attract other interstitial entertainment and food and beverage offerings,” Alexander said.
Bill French, a retail broker with the Indianapolis office of Chicago-based Cushman & Wakefield, said the area will likely garner new interest from restaurant concepts once Back 9 is finished—particularly with work on the Elanco Animal Health headquarters at the former General Motors stamping plant just south of the zoo set to get underway by the end of this year.
The Back 9 property is expected to include at least two retail outlots, though it’s not clear yet whether those spaces have been leased.
“The area already has a running start, and this is really going to be something that helps generate a lot more activity,” French said. For restaurants and retailers, “it just gives you an additional reason” to locate in a spot along the river.
Larry Gigerich, president of Indianapolis site selection firm Ginovus, said he anticipates the area will begin to see an influx in interest from mixed-use developers, too.
“I do think there’s an opportunity for some mixed-use development—especially housing—to take place,” with the addition of the venue, he said.
But he said more extensive redevelopment along the river will likely take upwards of a decade, because the area includes so much industrial property.
“Some of that industrial development will stay, but I do think some of it will be redeveloped over time … maybe five to 10 years,” Gigerich said. “Those sites are always more complicated, when it comes to land use and environmental issues.”
Over the past six years, there’s been little development in the area, which is generally surrounded on the north and west by The Valley and Rhodius Park neighborhoods.
One of the few nearby amenities that has opened is Biltwell Event Center, which caters to corporate gatherings; weddings; and small, out-of-town meetings. The venue, two blocks north of Back 9’s parcel, opened in 2015.
Biltwell Director Mark Mattingly said the venues might see some overlap in prospective customers—they both will have event spaces—but he’s hopeful for partnership opportunities and the increase in traffic the new facility could bring.
“The advancement of the neighborhood is always a good thing, and I think we can help each other in the effort to continue developing the area,” he said. “Bringing anything like what they’re proposing just enhances the overall experience for our guests, and it makes for a better neighborhood. The more we can get on this side of the river, the more connected we become to downtown.”•