Bottleworks: Ready To Pop
Downtown Indianapolis has seen a lot of expansive projects. Recently, the city welcomed block-transforming buildings such as Penrose on Mass (replacing the fire station by Old National Centre) and the Hyatt Place hotel (across Pennsylvania Street from Bankers Life Fieldhouse). But it’s possible that the last time Indy saw a publicly accessible property the scale of Bottleworks—a $300 million reuse of the Coca-Cola bottling factory on Mass Ave into a hotel, office space, apartments, condos, and entertainment spots—was the opening of Circle Centre in 1995. One major difference between these two endeavors, born 25 years apart: Unlike Circle Centre, the existing buildings will not be gutted, meaning Bottleworks is also a massive restoration project.
This Art Deco gem was reportedly the largest soda factory in the country when it opened in 1931. After the Coke franchise was sold in the 1960s, Indianapolis Public Schools used it as a bus garage. During those decades, IPS basically kept the lights on. It was better than abandonment, but the building’s decline from its glory days was obvious. Eventually, Mass Ave’s rejuvenation brought a renewed focus to the old factory—and new life, under the direction of Hendricks Commercial Properties, the Ironworks developer. Bottleworks willl open in stages, starting with the country’s first West Elm Hotel in spring 2020.
So far, much of the buzz surrounding Bottleworks has revolved around the refurbishment of the factory’s original terra-cotta buildings, replete with gorgeous, intact tilework and ornate brass details. But preservation won’t stand in the way of progress. With 17 old and new buildings and a 14-story tower for apartments and condos, Bottleworks will feel like a neighborhood unto itself, comprising about as much retail square footage as The Fashion Mall compressed into a footprint a small fraction of its size. Between visitors and workers, it’s likely that thousands of people will inject life into a section of Mass Ave where currently foot traffic and energy taper off.
One important aspect of this project will be how it “activates” (that’s urban-development speak for “attracts people”) the street corner of Massachusetts and College. It’s a 45-degree-angle lot, and, for now, a blank slate. The structure placed at this corner will need to draw pedestrians across the broad, three-street intersection, from the bulk of Mass Ave’s attractions to the southwest. Smartly, the new building will feature large windows, creating a beckoning street presence.
Currently, most businesses in the Mass Ave area are either locally owned or a part of a small regional chain. So far, Bottleworks has been slightly more national in its reach. Signed tenants, in addition to Brooklyn-based West Elm, include Living Room Theaters (based in Oregon) and Pins Mechanical duckpin bowling alley (from Cincinnati). But a large food hall will spotlight local vendors such as Daredevil Brewing Co. and Square Cat Vinyl. The West Elm’s restaurant will be run by a local chef, according to Bottleworks project manager Isaac Bamgbose.
Bottleworks will even open up two new public streets, Carrollton and 9th, which have been closed to the public for decades. It’s more common for large-scale developments to vacate public streets and transfer the land to private ownership. That style of development is known as a superblock. Instead of a superblock, Bottleworks will be broken up into more manageable pieces.
The project is a grand ambition that aims to fit into the overall narrative for downtown. Indy at its best can be bold as well as practical. It can inspire as well as build upon itself over time. It can invite people in to celebrate, to remember, and to cherish. Bottleworks will encourage them to linger even longer.