The Indianapolis Zoo has acquired more than 28 acres of land south of its existing property that it plans to use to expand parking and free up space for additional exhibits.
The zoo secured the two parcels—one that was part of the former GM stamping plant site and one that is adjacent—as part of an agreement with Indianapolis developer Ambrose Property Group, which last week dropped plans for a $1.4 billion mixed-use real estate project called Waterside on the 103-acre GM property on the western edge of downtown Indianapolis.
Ambrose donated some of the land to the zoo. It sold another portion to the not-for-profit for $3 million.
“This is a terrific example of how Ambrose continues to be invested in our community and proves its leaders care about the future of our city and the zoo,” Indianapolis Zoo President Rob Shumaker said in a written statement.
The parcels, which are south of West Washington Street and east of South Harding Street, are expected to be turned into permanent parking lots.
The zoo’s expansion options have long been limited because of its location along the White River, which winds along the north and east sides of the property. Surrounding development had left the property almost landlocked, but the availability of the former GM stamping property created a rare opportunity.
The southern 12-acre parcel—accessible from Harding Street—will almost immediately be put to use as overflow parking for events such as ZooBoo, which runs Oct. 17-27, and Christmas at the Zoo.
Zoo officials are still looking at how to incorporate the other 16.5-acre site to the north, along Washington Street, into the zoo’s footprint.
The current parking lot—which accounts for about 13 of the zoo’s 67 acres—is likely to be converted into new exhibits and other zoo programming, spokeswoman Judy Palermo said.
She said she expects the planning process to take several years. Zoo officials are expected to detail new programming opportunities in the coming months, she said.
“All this is still in its infancy,” Palermo said. “It’s something that has to be worked on over the next three to five to 10 years to determine what is the best next step for the zoo.”
Ambrose agreed to purchase the GM stamping plant property in May 2017 from the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response, or RACER, Trust—which was formed during GM’s bankruptcy to prepare former plants for redevelopment. The developer was chosen by the city and RACER from among four bidders for the property.
Ambrose spent $3 million to acquire all five parcels that comprised the GM stamping plant site.
The mid-September land sale was part of an agreement reached between Ambrose and the zoo during the firm’s discussions with RACER, which included a commitment to donate some land to the zoo for an expansion.
Ambrose’s announcement last Friday that it planned to withdraw from the Waterside project came two weeks after executing the deal with the zoo.
Bruce Rasher, Michigan-based RACER’s development manager, said he was pleased Ambrose honored its commitment to give the land to the zoo.
“This was one small part of the vision that Ambrose was tasked to carry out,” he said. “So, I’m very pleased with this sale and I hope that the remainder of Ambrose’s decisions are consistent with the wishes of the community.”
The agreement between the zoo and Ambrose resembled another expansion deal the zoo had with Indianapolis-based REI Investments when that firm was eyeing a new amphitheater for the GM stamping plant site in 2015. But that deal was scrapped when REI withdrew from its project after trouble securing financing.
Zoo officials said the organization received 10 acres as a donation from Ambrose and paid for another 16.5 acres.
Property records and state records, however, say the 10 acres actually was 12. And they show that it was the 16.5 acres that Ambrose donated after the developer bought the land from scrap metal company J. Solotken & Co. Inc. for nearly $2.3 million. Those records show that the zoo spent about $3 million to buy the other 12 acres of land from Ambrose.
In a written statement, Ambrose CEO Aasif Bade said the firm is “proud to have played a role” in the zoo’s future expansion.
“Ambrose strives to authentically support communities in which we do business, and this land partnership is a perfect example of that effort,” he said.