Owner proposes 22-story addition to downtown’s Morrison Opera Place

The hotel atop the Morrison Opera House building would have 220 rooms. The addition also would have residential space. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Indianapolis)

The owner of the historic Morrison Opera Place building in downtown Indianapolis is proposing a towering $60 million, 22-story addition that would be used for hotel and residential uses.

Bruce Bodner—who has owned the 149-year-old building at 47 S. Meridian St. since 1997—told IBJ he would like the development to be one of the “most unique, cool projects in Indianapolis.” The addition would boost the building from four to 26 stories.

Plans for the building, which housed a Hard Rock Cafe for 20 years until the restaurant’s closure this year, call for an addition that contains a 220-room “lifestyle” hotel and 32 residential units. The original building would be used for a signature restaurant and a terrace bar.

A hotel brand has not yet been determined, nor has the mix of residential units. Bodner said he expects there to be condominiums and market-rate and workforce-rate apartments.

The project, which is being designed by Indianapolis-based Ratio Architects, would involve the demolition of a small portion of the existing building and the addition of structural pillars to support the addition. Bodner said the exterior of the existing building would be maintained.

Much of the building has been vacant for several years, with Hard Rock Cafe anchoring the ground-floor corner space at Meridian and Maryland streets from 1999 until its lease expired in March.

Plans call for a horizontal gap of 27 feet between the top of the existing 43,777-square-foot building and the bottom floor of the addition. That area would be used for a pool and other amenities for hotel guests and residents. The hotel would be occupy floors six through 17 and the residential units would be on floors 18 through 26.

The first floor of the opera house would be used as a restaurant, the second floor as the hotel lobby, the third floor for meeting space and back-of-house operations, and the fourth floor for additional commercial space, including a bar area.

Before the project can move forward, it must receive approval from the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission because it is in the historic Wholesale District.

The IHPC plans to hold a preliminary hearing for the development on Oct. 17. That meeting is intended to give the commission an opportunity offer feedback on the design, rather than to cast a vote.

Bodner, who so far is the only investor in the project, said he plans to seek incentives from the city in the form of tax-increment financing.

He said he expects to receive pushback from some members of the commission who could have concerns with the project’s design, but said he believes the proposal is a “great way to preserve” the building.

He said he views his project in the same vein as the $66 million mixed-use project at 421 N. Pennsylvania St., which earlier this month received approval for $9.8 million in TIF financing from City-County Council—amid criticism from some councilors.

While Bodner declined to say whether his project would be feasible without incentives, he noted “I clearly see a path forward if TIF is available.”

He said he believes the building, which is underutilized, is “uniquely positioned for an expansion,” particularly when compared to other historic downtown properties.

Bodner said is confident the market would be able to absorb the hotel rooms he is proposing.

Several other downtown hotels also are in the works or have been proposed, including the Tru by Hilton near Lucas Oil Stadium; a Kimpton Hotel at 1 North Pennsylvania St.; an Avid hotel at 324 Wilkins St.; an Even Hotel at 808 S. Meridian; an unnamed hotel in the King Cole Building near Monument Circle; and the long-lingering Drury project in the former IBJ building along East Washington Street.

Those are in addition to the two Hilton-branded hotels proposed for Pan Am Plaza.

Bodner was prolific local developer in the 1990s who owned CVS stories throughout Indiana before going through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011 due to the failure of a 62-acre mixed-use project in Avondale, Arizona.

The Opera Place building, which was built around 1870, has rich historical character, both on its interior and exterior. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

On the outside, the four-story building boasts arched windows on its upper floors and an Italianate-style cornice at the roof. Its interior is marked by a brick facade; exposed wood beams and trusses; cast iron columns and more. According its National Register application, the Italianate design that the building’s exterior typifies “was popular for commercial buildings in this area of Indianapolis from the period just before the Civil War to about 1880.”

According to public records, the building was constructed by Indianapolis businessman William H. Morrison after a fire destroyed the Morrison Opera Block on Jan. 17, 1870. Its second owner was M. O’Connor & Co. Wholesale Grocers, which occupied it from 1886 until 1924. From then until 1977, the Colonial Furniture Co. and its successor People’s Outfitting Co. occupied it.

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14 thoughts on “Owner proposes 22-story addition to downtown’s Morrison Opera Place

  1. I would struggle to support another single site TIF and public financing, to support another hotel downtown. Much as I struggled to support to 421 N Penn project that Mr. Bodner references above.

  2. Its a commendable use for what might become a derelict or poorly used property. The downtown is slipping a bit since its mini renaissance of the mid to late nineties through the mid 2000s. New uses and viable uses have to be considered. This is a very good design thoughtfully layered into the existing vernacular of the surrounding buildings.

  3. I FEAR INDY lacks the vision to progress into a truly beautiful city.Way too many people fight development here and stuck on this barn yard hinkle field house look. I would love to see a more sophisticated modern style building. Indy has way too many old looking buildings and it just make the city look bland and sterile.The Hilton Signa proposal on pan am plaza has a modern glass sleek look that you see in most cities that’s redeveloping their downtown skylines. Indy should look at whats going on in Nashville, they have about 30 cranes up in downtown alone. Indy use to be the 12th largest city in the nation and now we have slipped to 16th. when a survey was conducted most people said one reason Indy gets called flyover country is because it simply doesn’t look appealing and our skyline made us look underdeveloped.People just aren’t that impressed with our architecture. please Indy lets build a more modern city and leave the old barnyard hoosier look in the past.

    1. Indianapolis has way too many “old looking buildings?” Compared to New York, Chicago, LA, or even Cincinnati? The only things which Indy has way too many of is parking lots located where buildings once stood–things are improving, but the downtown, especially on the edges, looked bombed out for decades. Also,Indianapolis has a good amount of modern “glass and steel” buildings from mid-rise to “skyscraper,” especially when compared to similar cities.

      Nashville is okay (but it is certainly better known for its music scene than its pretty ordinary skyline). And, yes, it currently has a lot of mid-rise development. But, Nashville will also only have three buildings over 500 feet after the Four Seasons finishes construction in a couple of years whereas Indianapolis reached that threshold back in 1990. As for population growth, Indianapolis’s population expanded significantly in 1970 due to Unigov, not because hundreds of thousands of people suddenly moved to the city—for many decades before Unigov, it ranked somewhere between the 23-26 largest city in the U.S. And, yes, after its Unigov bump, it is now being passed mostly by much faster growing cities out West or in the South, which simply follows national population growth trends. Recent population estimates also say Columbus, OH is now slightly bigger, and it like Indianapolis, acquired most of its growth through aggressive annexation.

      In any event, NONE of the population growth, or lack of it, has ANYTHING to do with the city’s architecture–people move to a city because of job opportunities, cost of living, and overall quality of life (arts, entertainment, recreation, good schools, etc.) NOT because of what the skyline looks like. Whatever survey you claim to have read, if it exists, is so much horse manure, as there is much well-documented evidence about the real reasons why people choose to locate in a city.

      Finally, Hinkle Fieldhouse looks like it does because it was built in 1928 when that sort of stripped down Art Deco style was popular for sports arenas–you can see many other similar buildings across the country. It is also not located anywhere near downtown, so it has zero influence on the skyline’s appearance.

  4. It’s a strange looking building with those triple height windows scattered about. It doesn’t seem to me to respect the architecture of the Morrison Opera Place. I always wonder if the architects deliberately push the envelope in the initial proposal so that after the smoke settles, they can revise the plans to what they actually would have done in the first place absent the review process.

  5. I find the design of this building intriguing. It’s different… I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different. I do agree that it could tie into the massing and general aesthetic of the opera house. They tried to pay homage to the design with the arched windows, but missed the mark a bit. Adding a cornice and more detail around the podium level to get it there.

  6. The overly large arched window references feel counter-intuitive to the usual approach of a heavier base with lighter topping elements, and come off as a bit kitschy. Othewise a fairly striking design. But please drop the ridiculous pretense of ‘historical reference’ and hold IHPC to it’s own edict of ‘design for it’s own time’. Nothing at all wrong with combining existing historical with modern so long as a clear demarcation is provided, nicely done here with the horizontal separation. What I would fear most is the usual developer trick of selling one design to the city for approval, then paring it back to meet profit-driven motives, pleading ‘unforeseen economic circumstances’ (Ugh, and shame on you, Flaherty). Perhaps some disincentives for this practice could be built-in to any agreement.

  7. This is a complete mess. The design isn’t functional as a hotel, office, condo, bar or restaurants as proposed. Second floor hotel lobby? Third floor meeting space? Fourth floor bar? Random office space on fifth floor. Hotels and condos on six through twenty six floors?

    1. Not sure what your day job is Dennis, but I would not give it up to become a designer. The new Hyatt hotel across from Bankers Life Fieldhouse has its lobby and registration desk on the second floor. Meetings rooms and bars can be on any floor provided there is easy and quick access to them via escalators and/or elevators. As for hotel rooms and condos in the new tower, visit the Conrad where the hotel rooms occupy most of the tower with condos on the upper floors, or the new Omni in Louisville which has the same.

    2. Dennis, do you actually think a developer who has decades of experience building commercial buildings would incur many millions of dollars of expense building a building he could not lease because it was not functional?

      I have personally stayed in hotels that have lobbies located on an upper-floor, and it is very common to have meeting space on upper-floors in hotels (have you ever been to a convention?). As for the bar, it will be on the top floor of the existing low-rise building, which makes perfect sense, and again, it is very common for hotel bars to be located on upper floors. As for the hotel rooms on the lower floors with condos above it, this is how numerous combo hotel-residential buildings are built. Hotel rooms are put on the lower levels with condos or apartments above them to take advantage of the better views from the upper floors. You need to get out more and see the rest of the world.

  8. I think this rendering makes this building looks distinctive and different from anything else downtown and is a nice way to add some height and reuse to the existing building. IHPC consistently votes against anything that tries “to look historic” so this is a win/win as it is a nice update with modern flair.