Eleven local groups float plans for redeveloping Old City Hall

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The city’s first attempt at seeking proposals for redeveloping Old City Hall since the 21c hotel project fell apart has attracted a slew of interest from nearly a dozen respondents.

The new responses included suggestions for developing work space for startups, a city visitors center, high-end retail, a museum, a boutique hotel and residential space, as well as returning some government functions to the building.

City officials recently issued a “request for information” to relaunch the process of redeveloping the 107-year-old limestone building at the northwest corner of Ohio and Alabama streets. Submissions were due on Friday. City officials released to IBJ the names of the 11 groups that submitted formal responses and a one-sentence synopsis of the proposals, without tying any group to a specific plan.

The RFI is a relatively new process open to public bodies to encourage private entities to float proposals for projects without concern that the details would be made public. In that way, RFIs legally differ from more common "requests for proposals," which do become public.

Those interested in redeveloping Old City Hall are:

Daniel C. Jacobs
Deylen Realty
Gershman Partners
Hodges Marketing Solutions
Milhaus Development LLC
R&B Architects
Schmidt Associates
Shiel Sexton
Strategic Capital Partners
Synthesis Inc.
Third Street Ventures

All are locally based companies, and all but two declined to share information about their plans or simply didn’t respond to phone calls or emails from Property Lines. The two willing to provide some detail were Hodges Marketing Solutions and R&B Architects.

The plans from Hodges are pretty simple—convert Old City Hall into a community work space for both upstart and more established companies, with retail space also available for boutiques not yet ready to assume a long-term lease, firm co-founder Mark Hodges said.

“We believe the floor plan of Old City Hall is fine the way it is,” he said. “It’s a historic building, and we think it should be preserved as is.”

The endeavor could be funded with endowments, he said. The adjacent surface lot to the north, also available for development, would remain to accommodate business owners and patrons to old City Hall, Hodges said.

He pointed to local success story ExactTarget, which was purchased by San Francisco-based Salesforce.com in 2013 for $2.5 billion, as inspiration for his idea.

“If we can bring dozens of these ideas to life,” Hodges said, “easily the next success story could come from an investment like this one.”

R&B Architects proposes turning Old City Hall into a visitor’s center, complete with exhibits showcasing the city’s history along with information on local attractions, said Brent Mather, a principal of the firm.

R&B Architects consulted with Visit Indy and Downtown Indy to formulate its proposal, Mather said. If selected, the firm would seek a developer to construct an office and retail building on the surface lot, he said.

“The whole purpose is to use the building for the betterment of the city; that’s why it was constructed,” Mather said. “And that’s why we’re releasing details about our plan. If someone has a better idea, we should do it.”

The city’s next step will be to issue a more formal RFP. In its most recent legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly enacted the legislation that allows cities to issue RFIs for public-private projects. The idea is to encourage developers to submit more creative and innovative responses that they might not share in a public RFP.

Emily Mack, director of the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development, told IBJ in June that the city decided against putting out an RFP first because “it does not allow for a lot of flexibility.”

The city in late March announced it was ditching plans to help finance construction of a proposed 150-room hotel by Louisville-based 21c Museum Hotels LLC after delays with the $55 million project.

While officials said they were pleased with the overall idea of the 21c hotel—which would have included a museum for contemporary art—there could be a variety of other uses for Old City Hall.

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