The Canal's Troubled Waters

This month’s IUPUI Regatta proves the canal is a great place for festivals. So why aren’t there more of them?

For all that downtown’s Central Canal is—mainly, a lovely spot for fresh air—it may forever be known for what it is not.

It is not a retail hub. It is not lined with sidewalk cafes and thriving businesses. It is not a commerce center. And events like the IUPUI Regatta are too scarce. The best explanation is that the canal arrived before its time. About 25 years ago, then-Mayor Bill Hudnut championed turning a remnant of a failed canal project in the city’s early years into a picturesque downtown focal point. But it might have presented opportunities long before the city had much confidence in its urban core.

As a result, developers relied heavily on offices and apartments. Out-of-the-box ideas—including a hotel with a section over the water—were turned down. Now most of the land is spoken for, so the canal, which felt on the verge of something big back in the 1990s, has seemingly reached its destiny. “The canal really failed because it sort of came of age too early,” says Aaron Renn of The Urbanophile blog. “What are you going to do?”

Is the hotel-bridge still an option?


Photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the September 2013 issue