Photo by Tony Valainis
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After a devastating few years, city leaders hope the distance between where downtown is and where it’s going will be a short walk.
IT TAKES ROUGHLY an hour and a 3-mile walk to travel between the future of downtown and its past. One sunny day this summer, I took that walk, simultaneously traversing the current Indianapolis, the one it supplanted, and the one that will soon replace both of them.
Beginning in the Bottleworks District at High Alpha—the venture studio that has created nearly $1 billion in local economic impact through its tech portfolio companies—I walked down Mass Ave toward the old GM Stamping Plant.
For 80 years, the hulking, 2.1 million-square-foot site powered much of the local economy, employing thousands. Instead of portfolio companies, it stamped Chevrolet trucks and buses. But cities and economies change. Abandoned since 2010, the GM Stamping Plant spot is finally moving in the right direction again. Elanco Animal Health broke ground this spring on a $100 million headquarters there, which city leaders hope will transform the blighted industrial area back into the bustling spot it once was.
As I got closer to the land nestled along the White River, I looked to my right and saw a sign. “FIND WHAT’S NEXT” read a giant poster draped on the Indiana State Museum, almost cheering me on as I got closer to my destination.
That’s what civic boosters here are trying to do right now: find what’s next for a somewhat bleary-eyed city. Indianapolis finds itself in the middle of a “vibe shift.” The pandemic-era term, coined by trend-forecasting consultant Sean Monahan and popularized by New York magazine earlier this year, is exactly what it sounds like: a cultural change, following a period when a “social wavelength starts to feel dated,” according to the magazine’s Allison P. Davis.
The city’s vibe shift has been unfolding over the last year, as officials placed cultural defibrillators on the heart of downtown, attempting to shock it back to life after the twin forces of the pandemic and the new civil rights movement roiled the Mile Square in 2020. Storefronts were boarded up. Crime increased. Open drug use, and occasionally feces, dotted downtown streetscapes. The economic currents laid waste to treasured restaurants like Ed Rudisell’s Black Market on Mass Ave and Rook in Fletcher Place. A downtown that had been on the rise for decades was suddenly in huge trouble.
Now, with the worst of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, the city’s core may be transforming again. Civic leaders spent years preparing downtown to be the kind of place that could host a Super Bowl. Now they want to do something very different: make it a desirable place to live.
“We’ve traditionally thought of our downtown as a place where people work, so we thought about the population of downtown as workers,” says Scarlett Andrews, director of the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development. “Then we thought about how to make it a place that people wanted to visit. Now workers want something different. Visitors to some degree want different experiences. But we have a lot of people living downtown, and we need even more.”
Consider this: The occupancy rate of downtown apartments is 97 percent. That suggests an opportunity for more housing. It may also call for new kinds of development.
“We need to change how we think about our public spaces and infrastructure,” Andrews says. “We need a more people-centered approach to what residents, visitors, and workers want.”
What, exactly, does that mean? Back to the vibe shift: In the coming five years, a historic slate of projects will take shape downtown. For the most part, these won’t be the office towers and malls that characterized development here in the late-20th and early-21st centuries. A new kind of neighborhood-based construction, represented by campuses like Bottleworks, Elevator Hill, the Stutz complex, and 16 Tech, seems to be in vogue. Then there’s the city’s partnership with the cultural development firm GANGGANG to create the South Downtown Connectivity Vision Plan, which could reshape everything from the kinds of trees you see planted to the variety of benches you sit on.
Last year, nearly a decade after Super Bowl XLVI, the city finally took down its city-limit signs touting our experience as the host city. It was time for something new. Indianapolis is ready to find what’s next, as the sign at the museum urged.
I told Jeff Bennett, Indy’s deputy mayor of community development, about my walk, and asked him what he made of the new Indianapolis that will spring up alongside that path in the next few years.
“You can stand and point at historic resources that have already become revitalized campuses like Bottleworks,” Bennett says. “Then you can point at sites like the stamping plant that will be changed over the next few years. No city is fixed in time. They’re always changing. You’re either moving forward, or you’re moving backward, but you’re never standing still. And I think that corridor you walked represents that—the city is moving forward.” —Adam Wren
The Stutz Complex
TAKING UP an entire city block, the 111-year-old Stutz has seen good times come and go more than once downtown. Turner Woodard, who saved it from the wrecking ball in 1992, recently sold the complex of eight buildings to New York–based SomeraRoad. The developer displaced many of the artists who had studios there, but the rehabilitation of the building looks impressive. Basel Bataineh, principal at SomeraRoad, suggests that construction of phase one is nearing the end and ground-level amenities will open soon.
Pedestrians will be able to wander around the buildings through landscaped alleyways, encountering the Stutz vintage car museum, event space, restaurants, and some art studios. Pattern, run by Polina Osherov, will be one of the first tenants. Captivated by the Stutz community in 2007 during an artist open house, Osherov, a commercial photographer, has been renting studio space there ever since and is striving to keep the artistic legacy of the building at the forefront of the new development. “Things are evolving,” she says, but expresses excitement for the property’s new artist residencies and retail incubator.
Other tenants will include Cafe Patachou, Myriad Health and Fitness, Grounded Plant and Floral Co., and an Industrious coworking space. Despite grumbling from some artists who had rented at the Stutz, Bataineh notes that SomeraRoad maintains support of the Stutz Artist Association through its studio space and art events such as the BUTTER Art Fair over Labor Day weekend.
WALKING AROUND the first phase of the Bottleworks District at the east end of Mass Ave, you might momentarily forget that a pandemic had decimated the rest of downtown. The site of the old Art Deco Coca-Cola bottling plant—redeveloped by Hendricks Commercial Properties last year—has been thriving. A swanky boutique hotel, bustling food hall, arts cinema, and several retail shops have had no problem attracting visitors. No wonder a multimillion-dollar second phase of the development is already underway. Here’s what’s in the, ahem, works:
Scheduled completion: late 2024
The five-story, warehouse-style flatiron building was designed to maximize the triangular footprint while blending into the historic Mass Ave district.
Despite the apocalyptic market for commercial office space elsewhere, Hendricks says it has seen strong demand for offices at Bottleworks. They’re building nearly 250,000 square feet of it.
The Lumina Foundation will occupy the entire top floor, and IG Global half of the second.
The ground-floor retail spaces will prioritize locally owned shops, extending the shopping district north.
Although a tenant has not yet been announced, a corner first-floor restaurant will offer outdoor dining.
The outdoor decks should provide great people-watching along College Avenue.
Scheduled completion: late 2025
A spectacular rooftop deck overlooking Mass Ave and College will rival the one at High Alpha, which has its headquarters at Bottleworks.
The four-story, linear, warehouse-style building will host offices ranging from 1,800 to 13,200 square feet.
The Bottleworks parking garage will double to 550 spaces, easing the pressure to find one of those rare street spots.
More ground-floor retail and restaurants will feature high ceilings and oversized windows.
The Case for a Greener Downtown
Taylor Firestine, Walk & Bike Coordinator for Health by Design, insists that Indy needs to think bigger than just adding trees.
I RECENTLY learned that Marion County was 98 percent forest when people started settling here. We can’t go back to that, but we can adapt our built environment to provide more space for trees. Green space is absolutely essential if we want an attractive downtown not only for visitors, but for people who are living here. It’s infrastructure that helps improve public health, which the Trust for Public Land looks at when they rank the 100 largest cities in the United States based on parks and green space. On their 2022 ParkScore Index, Indy isn’t even on the list.
Obviously, downtown has a ton of hardscape. There are a lot of buildings, parking lots, and streets. But when you bring in nature, those edges soften and things feel more inviting. Plus, street trees are the superorganisms of a city. They soak up excess precipitation and provide a cooler microclimate. If it were 95 degrees out and I had the choice between walking down Delaware Street in the Old Northside or walking down Delaware Street between I-65 and Ohio, I’d definitely go through the Old Northside because of the mature street trees.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s not a total lack of green space downtown; it’s just not used to its fullest potential. American Legion Mall and University Park are passive spaces, for example, and people are generally attracted to places where others are congregating. We’ve seen this at Lugar Plaza. Last fall, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail partnered with Indy Jazz Fest for an event that felt really comfortable and inviting there.
Here’s the other thing about green space and why it’s an essential component of a healthy downtown: climate change. We know we’re going to experience hotter temperatures and more rainfall. Extreme weather events are going to put stress on downtown infrastructure that is well over a century old. Building up our tree canopy and biodiversity can help us be resilient to the changes that are coming. Look at the Transit Center. The landscaping includes lots of trees and bioswales that serve as natural drains for when we have heavy rainfall. It’s a great example of what has already been done in our city. —As told to Dawn Olsen
Circle Centre Mall
ONCE THE RETAIL centerpiece of our state capital, Circle Centre is in crisis. If you’ve walked through recently, it was probably to get from one side of town to another without braving the weather. The cavernous halls don’t offer much in the way of upscale shopping anymore, and plans for change seem about as stalled as its escalators. But recent developments show slow movement toward a solution.
Since Simon sold its share of the mall in February, the ownership group, Circle Centre Development Co., has been soliciting ideas from architecture partners and searching for the right developer to completely reimagine the space. “We’ve confirmed a redevelopment of Circle Centre will need to create 24/7 demand and opportunities for increased street-level retail through residential, retail, entertainment, and other district-type uses that will complement downtown’s evolution,” says Adam Collins, an attorney representing the mall’s owners.
Portia Bailey-Bernard, vice president of Indianapolis economic development at Indy Chamber, says that while the mall fit the needs of downtown when it was built in 1995, it should progress and reflect the city’s evolution. “That’s continuing to provide a space for visitors who come, but adding the needs of a downtown resident population that continues to grow,” she says.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning retail. While plenty of businesses have closed up shop, others, such as outrageous newcomer Sugar Factory, have seen initial success. A few niche storefronts inside the mall, including locally owned Circle City Souvenirs, have been able to hold on where larger, corporate stores could not. “We know that malls around the world need to reinvent themselves,” says Bailey-Bernard. “And it can be a daunting task. But it’s also exciting and brings new opportunities to a space that honestly has so many possibilities.”
EVER SINCE Angie’s List sold to IAC and vacated its massive Elevator Hill headquarters in 2017, much of the progress it fostered along East Washington Street has stagnated. But former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle and others purchased the property, and with the help of development firm 1820 Ventures, they’ve slowly been transforming it into what they hope will be one of the city’s premier mixed-use districts (think nearby Bottleworks).
For now, the campus is a collection of industrial space, historic buildings, parking lots, and homes. Gathyr, a 103-unit residential building at Market and Dickerson presently under construction, is scheduled to begin leasing next spring. As much as $250 million in development will follow. Other phases include another multifamily residential project on Market Street and a 60,000-square-foot office building on Washington Street adjacent to an expected IndyGo Blue Line stop.
The redevelopment of Elevator Hill is going to be a yearslong ride. But residents like Scotty Wilson, president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, are optimistic about the potential of the project, saying new mixed-use sites need to be a symbiosis between the new development and the surrounding community. “It just doesn’t work when one tries to exist without regard for the other,” he says, adding that the team at 1820 has continually engaged the neighborhood.
Sarah St. Aubin, owner of Futuro and a private salon on the site, is also pleased, comparing the future of the area to a mini Austin, Texas. “This is a safe place for businesses that want to succeed,” she says.
The Case for a Kid-Centric Downtown
Want to make the Mile Square better? Think small. Like, pint-sized.
IN 2008, Mayor Greg Ballard proposed building a Chinatown in Indianapolis from scratch. That was a dumb idea. But there was something admirable about Ballard’s willingness to float a crazy concept like that. That kind of vulnerability—a precondition for visionary thinking—has been sorely missing here lately.
The good news is that I have no fear of looking dumb. So here’s a free idea for the civic brain trust to kick around: Let’s make our downtown aggressively and unapologetically kid-friendly. I’m not saying turn all downtown surface parking into playgrounds (although that would be cool). I’m saying we should spend the next 20 years making downtown Indy the safest, most accessible, and most enjoyable downtown for families in America.
This doesn’t mean sacrificing grown-up zones like Mass Ave and Fountain Square. It means addressing all the ways the downtown ecosystem is currently hostile to people with kids.
I moved my own kids downtown seven years ago. I love living here, but it comes at a cost. Our streets prioritize fast-moving cars. Good schools are in limited supply. Daycare? Ha! Yet, here I am—and so are lots of other families. The demand for downtown living is borne out in the real estate market, where the median price of a single-family home is $431,000—significantly higher than $359,000 in suburban Fishers.
Many people with kids want to live downtown. We should do everything possible to welcome them. If you don’t believe me, ask Brent Toderian, a city planner who has been preaching the gospel of family-centric downtowns for years. Toderian formerly served as the chief planner of Vancouver, where more than 7,000 children live downtown. He says Vancouver’s success “proves the myth that families won’t live downtown is complete garbage.”
In the 1980s, a harebrained-sounding “sports strategy” saved our moribund downtown. Now, in the wake of the pandemic, is the perfect time to take another big swing. Call it the “G-rated strategy.” The goal should be to make downtown fun, safe, and livable—basically a more diverse, densely populated, and culturally interesting version of the suburbs.
People often say Indy is a great place to raise a family. They don’t mean downtown. But take my advice, and in 20 years, they will. —Matt Gonzales
THIS HISTORIC food hall suffered a triple blow over the last two years. It was hammered by the pandemic, surrounded by construction for much of 2020–2021, and lost a good chunk of its customers when many City-County Building employees recently moved to the new Community Justice Campus. It’s no surprise that several of the stalls now sit empty. The city, which owns City Market, has chosen a proposal to build a new mixed-use housing development on the east wing. Will it be enough to keep the doors open and attract new customers? We asked three vendors for their ideas on how to improve one of the city’s former gems.
“I really want this place to continue as a market, but they need to make it more modern. We especially need to attract younger people. They’re the ones coming downtown and spending money. We have Tomlinson Tap, which is great, but it closes at 9 p.m. So it’s not a place a lot of younger people will go. How about longer hours? Redoing the east wing is a good idea. We could cater to more downtown residents. But for now, I’d like to see a lot more outdoor events—especially live music—while it’s still warm.”
“The issue that we had with the crowds of panhandlers outside during the pandemic has pretty much gone away. The street is clean, and the police are around most of the time. That’s good, but a lot of vendors have left. They couldn’t pay their bills. The city needs to recruit new ones, but also help those who have stayed with controlled rent. Losing the courts was a big loss. I hope they can fill that empty space with new offices or apartments. We also need help with PR, commercials, and special offers to get people here.”
“We’ve seen a lot of ups and downs over 33 years here. The Super Bowl was great for business, while the 2007 remodel nearly shut us down. I think City Market needs to pour more money into the plazas. The east plaza is an eyesore, but I’m thrilled with the possibility of apartments there. I’d like to see a couple of places for outdoor dining, a nice little cafe, and exterior lighting so people know we’re here. And maybe it’s time to consider privatization. I think it might be better run and more efficient, although I realize that might mean a rent increase. It has been a market since the 1880s and it’s a special place, so we need to find a way to keep it going.”
Pan Am Plaza
SOMEDAY, when people talk about The Plaza hotel, maybe they’ll be referring to this ambitious project instead of that one in New York. Kite Realty Group plans to build a $300 million, 40-story-high, 800-room skyscraper hotel on the site of Pan Am Plaza. Development of the hotel, called the Signia, will accompany Kite’s simultaneous expansion of the convention center. Delayed two years because of the pandemic, preliminary site work began this past fall. Demo of the two skating rinks and rebuilding of the underground garage (the 12-story office building stays) will follow, with cranes in the air and construction underway by next spring. Since you won’t be able to check in until 2025, here’s a peek at the amenities of what will be downtown’s biggest hotel.
The Sky Lounge bar for 300 people will boast floor-to-ceiling windows, and include a mezzanine champagne bar plus a terrace overlooking Lucas Oil Stadium.The full-service spa, salon, and fitness center will make you as fresh as the new building. Two restaurants and a grab-and-go market will feed guests who don’t want to leave the property. On the fifth floor, an outdoor pool and entertainment deck will overlook Georgia Street.A large sunken garden between the hotel and Pan Am building will offer a great place to admire the architecture. A three-story lobby will include a grand staircase and wraparound bar.A massive skylight above reception will provide a neck-bending view to the top of the hotel.Between Illinois Street and Capitol Avenue, a new road will allow for easier dropoff and pickup.Somewhere inside, there will be an unmarked speakeasy behind a hidden door—if you can find it.
THERE ARE plenty of adaptive-reuse projects in the works around town, but none as promising as the conversion of the nearly 50-year-old AT&T building (220 N. Meridian St.) by Keystone Corp. After sitting mostly empty since 2009, the 20-story office tower, now called 220 Meridian, has new life as a building mostly dedicated to luxury apartments. The retail and dining spaces at street level, art installations in the lobby, rooftop pool, sky-high green space, and remaining AT&T offices occupying the top three floors make this a classic mixed-use development.
“These new luxury residences and retail spaces have transformed the building,” says Ersal Ozdemir, chairman and CEO at Keystone Corp. “They’re going to reinvigorate the area and attract talent and opportunities for a live-work-play environment in the heart of downtown.”
Drawn to the floor-to-ceiling windows and a six-minute commute to work, Divyani Paul was one of the first residents at 220 Meridian. “It’s a good place to be—you can walk lots of places,” says the postdoctoral scientist at Lilly Genetic Medicine, who relocated from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
High-rise office conversions aren’t the norm … yet. But Scarlett Andrews, director of the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development, says housing is in high demand downtown and that converting more office space abandoned by the work-from-home movement is a priority. The eight-story Wulsin Building at 222 E. Ohio St., currently in planning stages, is also expected to be restructured into apartments. “It matches up with what our peer cities are telling us,” Andrews says. “Cincinnati, Chicago, Louisville are also seeing these kinds of conversions of tower buildings into residential and hotel.” DMD has put together an internal working group to help facilitate the process for developers and property owners in the future, indicating more conversions are to come.
EVEN IN A downtown awash with major construction projects, a $1 billion budget stands out. That’s how much Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir proposes to spend on a mixed-use development called Eleven Park that will include a 20,000-seat stadium for the soccer team, retail, office space, apartments, and a boutique hotel. The triangular plot that currently houses the Diamond Chain Company will soon complete a hat trick of stadiums in an area that already includes Victory Field and Lucas Oil Stadium.
It has been a long time coming. Rumors of a new Indy Eleven stadium have been around since 2014. But the Elanco campus now in the works across the river from the new site, along with the new Henry Street bridge and proposed Cultural Trail expansion that will connect the projects, became added incentives for the property. “We believe this site is the best place to invest, knowing it will have a transformational impact to the south side of Indianapolis,” Ozdemir says.
Tim Wise, president of Browning Day, the architect of record for the project, agrees that the location is a game-changer for the city. “While we studied many, many locations in Indy, we always felt that this was a pivotal site for downtown and for the Eleven,” he says. Wise would know. His firm has overseen the construction and renovations of many sports venues that have shaped our city, including the Hoosier Dome and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Funding for the $1 billion project is not yet fully secured, but money will come from both the Indy Eleven and Ozdemir’s construction business, Keystone Corp., as well as city and state contributions and tax incentives. Those details and important factors such as environmental remediation are still being worked through, but a tentative timeline projects an opening game in the spring of 2025.
Old City Hall
AT A GLANCE, Old City Hall, which served as Indy’s seat of government from 1910 until the City-County Building debuted in 1962, seems like a shoo-in for redevelopment. It’s loaded with the sort of luxe features one expects in a vintage building, including marble; a stained-glass dome 85 feet above the lobby; and a massive, three-story rotunda.
Yet it has stood empty for the better part of the 21st century.
Not that there haven’t been tenants. After city government abandoned it, the four-story structure housed the Indiana State Museum for a couple of decades, and Central Library for a couple of years after that. Since then, various organizations have eyeballed the property, some coming tantalizingly close to taking it on. The Indianapolis Star flirted with moving there, as did the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. It briefly became a pop-up art gallery when the city hosted Super Bowl XLVI, and came within a hair’s breadth of becoming a 21c Museum Hotels project, before that, too, fizzled.
So what’s the problem?
Some say the issue is obvious. Remember the building’s rotunda? It’s huge. It cuts a massive amount of square footage out of each of the building’s floors, drastically reducing the space that a developer might dedicate to, say, offices or shops. “It has a giant hole in the middle,” says Adam Thies, Indy’s former director of metropolitan development. “That hole, which is the atrium, is absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. But it was built in 1910 as a civic monument. They certainly weren’t worrying about leasable square footage.”
And so the fabled structure collects dust, waiting for the proper suitor. At least it’s free of pigeon droppings and water damage. The city pays around $60,000 to $100,000 a year to tackle various maintenance issues. Now that the City-County Building seems headed for sale and redevelopment, there’s been a lot of talk about moving the mayor’s office and other municipal functions back to Old City Hall.
But so far, it’s just talk. For now, Indy seems content to keep the place in working order, and wait.
JAY NAPOLEON is almost giddy when he talks about what’s on the horizon for the site of the old GM Stamping Plant across the White River from downtown. Napoleon lives a stone’s throw from the sprawling 102-acre parcel, which sat vacant and fenced off for 11 years, a monstrous eyesore for residents of the adjacent Valley neighborhood. “No one project can touch everything,” he says, “but this one comes close.”
In April, Elanco Animal Health Inc. broke ground on its new $100 million global headquarters there, which will eventually employ more than 1,500 people. Renderings show a gleaming six-story office building at the heart of its 40-acre campus. In a nod to the past, Elanco plans to keep a third of the historic crane bay left from the GM days, incorporating it into an event space.
The city and state ponied up $221 million in incentives to seal the deal and make way for what Napoleon calls the “the Silicon Valley of animal health.” It comes with myriad utility and infrastructure improvements. A new Henry Street bridge and plaza across the White River will connect Elanco’s campus to downtown. Realigning the adjacent White River Parkway 300 feet west will allow for the expansion of White River State Park. Oliver Avenue will become a tree-lined boulevard with a shared path for bikes and pedestrians, ultimately lined with shops and restaurants.
Elanco only owns about 40 percent of the enormous GM plot, so there are still questions about how the rest of it will be utilized. The Indianapolis Zoo acquired 12 acres at the northwest corner, which for now it will use for overflow parking. The state of Indiana controls the remaining acreage. The master plan envisions a mix of office space, retail, restaurants, and residential development across the rest of the site.
Even Elanco itself doesn’t move in until 2025, though, so the wait isn’t over just yet for the long-suffering neighborhood.
BY ANY MEASURE, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail has been a home run for the city. Built for $63 million using donations and federal transportation grants, the original 8-mile bike- and pedestrian-friendly span opened in 2013. The ICT connects six of the city’s cultural districts, and was immediately hailed worldwide as a one-of-a-kind urban amenity. For the first time, two new sections are now underway—one along Indiana Avenue and one along South Street. Here’s an overview of the $30 million expansion.
A bridge being built over Fall Creek for the 16 Tech innovation district will link with the westernmost tip of ICT’s new 10th Street section, providing access to the innovation district’s own Tech Trail.
Another carefully redesigned intersection will rationalize the somewhat-chaotic five-point junction of Indiana Avenue, 10th Street, and Oscar Robertson Boulevard.
The new section also provides a jumping-off point to the nearby White River Wapahani Trail.
The Indiana Avenue extension includes a large pedestrian plaza, garden plantings, and a traffic light at the intersection of Indiana Avenue, Paca Street, and West St. Clair St.
While the trail’s original sections are known for their permanent art installations, the new paths will feature temporary exhibits that will change regularly.
The ICT’s South Street extension will offer access to Lucas Oil Stadium, and create a safe pedestrian path between the stadium and area restaurants, such as the Slippery Noodle.
The southernmost portion of the Indiana Avenue extension will terminate at the Indianapolis Canal Walk.
THE RECENT debut of the Community Justice Campus on the southeast side has left the City-County Building, opened in 1962 and for years Indy’s tallest structure, half empty and seemingly with one foot in the grave.
It’s assumed that the rest of the city’s municipal organs will someday be transplanted to less dispiriting digs, meaning a new owner and a new purpose must be found for the CCB. Either that, or the blocky, hulking structure could meet the wrecking ball.
Preliminary studies estimate the building’s deferred maintenance costs at $40 million, and it would require even more to renovate the complex into some sort of residential/retail/office combo. But that price may be worth paying, given the CCB’s prime location in the heart of the Market East cultural district, sitting a stone’s throw from the 360 Market Square apartment tower, Cummins distribution headquarters, and the Julia M. Carson Transit Center. Though the building isn’t currently for sale, last year, the city asked for proposals for reuse of the roughly 2-acre parcel. It got three serious replies.
“All three responses were wellthought-out from reputable developers, and each included a mix of housing and retail development,” says Sonya J. Seeder, real estate administrator for the city of Indianapolis. “It’s clear from the responses that the development community is willing to invest in dense housing downtown.”
Richard G. Lugar Plaza, which fronts the CCB on Washington Street, was recently converted into a half-acre urban play zone complete with seating areas, a splash pad, and a lawn for everything from picnicking to Frisbee tossing. It’s overseen by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which runs by the plaza. ICT management would love to see this space survive, whatever the fate of the rest of the CCB.
“The Cultural Trail, the city, and community partners are committed to Lugar Plaza remaining a thriving and accessible place for everyone,” says Carrie Tracy, director of community engagement at ICT. “Its connectivity to the Cultural Trail will improve the experience for whatever happens next with the City-County Building.”
IU Health Downtown Hospital
WHEN COMPLETED around 2026, the new IU Health Downtown Hospital will become an architectural landmark—and a monument of sorts to these uncertain times.
It will take about $1.6 billion to build the new medical facility, which features three inpatient towers that will stand between 14 and 16 stories tall, and two rooftop heliports. Located across 16th Street from IU Methodist, it’s meant to replace the older hospital. After the new place opens, Methodist’s grounds will be radically reconfigured (with bulldozers and wrecking balls), with surviving structures integrated via elevated walkways to the new facility.
Though construction began only recently, planning started years ago. First announced in 2015, the hospital was originally meant to deal with what, at the time, was healthcare’s biggest trend—more and more outpatient procedures and fewer inpatient stays. In fact, the new facility was originally slated to offer no more beds than the care centers it will replace.
Then came COVID-19. Inpatient visits across the IU Health network rose to unprecedented levels, forcing it to use conference rooms and other random spaces to handle the overflow. So now the goal is for the new hospital design to maintain maximum flexibility—the better to face The Great Unknown. The structure still features large ground-level outpatient facilities, but can also hold 672 single-patient private rooms in its three towers.
By the way, if the building’s name sounds somewhat unimaginative, it’s because it’s likely a placeholder. At some point before the new hospital opens, it may receive the moniker of a deep-pocketed philanthropist who will make (one can safely assume) a breathtakingly large donation toward its construction.
LOCATED ON a 50-acre plot in what was formerly a gritty, near-westside industrial area, 16 Tech bills itself as an “innovation ecosystem” where everyone from startup-business owners to makers to artisanal restaurateurs can come together to develop their ideas. Over the next few years, the area will see lots of new additions.
Set for completion by the end of 2023, a new bridge with separate lanes for cars, pedestrians, and bicycles will span Fall Creek at 10th Street. It will link 16 Tech with IUPUI and downtown medical facilities, and knit together an extension of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
The Tech Trail, which debuts by 2025, will snake through the length of the 16 Tech campus.
A new, approximately 250-unit onsite apartment complex broke ground this summer. It will be completed in 2024.
A hotel will be added to the campus at some point, though a lot about this project remains undecided. It will likely open around 2025.
The Amp, 16 Tech’s artisan marketplace (and incubator for new restaurant concepts), recently added an ice cream establishment called Scoopz to its lineup of 21 food stands. It’s also putting in additional infrastructure so it can host musical acts and other events. What’s more, Purdue University Marion County Extension Office will debut a teaching center there. It will offer everything from gardening tips to hydroponics classes.
The Central Green, scheduled to debut in 2024, will offer green space and a possible venue for art installations, musical events, and outdoor gatherings.
When completed in 2024, Innovation Building 2 will provide an additional 140,000 square feet of office space.
The Case for a Tech-Centric Downtown
Yaw Aning, cofounder of the shipping tracking software company Malomo, thinks the growing tech scene here could rejuvenate the city’s center.
THERE HAS NEVER been a better time to launch a company in Indianapolis than right now. There’s more capital flowing to the area and more organizations—Powderkeg, gBETA, and TechPoint—that support startups than ever before. The Orr Fellowship is grooming the next generation of entrepreneurs. The Startup Ladies shine a spotlight on women business owners. Techstars recently launched a sports accelerator here.
But I would love to see more partnerships between large organizations and early-stage companies. What if Eli Lilly partnered with a startup and became one of their clients? It would signal to people that the business had value and would be worth investing in.
There’s also a lot of empty space downtown right now, and it would be worthwhile to get some young companies in there. Launching a company can be a lonely journey. It’s great when you can talk to other founders who are at a similar stage and are having the same challenges. Getting together inspires new ideas and new energy, and companies can solve their problems faster. Having High Alpha and Salesforce downtown is great. But if we increase the density of tech companies building, working, and learning together, it would reenergize the area. That’s one of the nice things about having an office at Union Campus downtown. There are a bunch of early-stage companies in that building, and everyone can collaborate, talk, and mingle.
In general, I think downtown is very tech-friendly. Our ecosystem includes talent from Purdue, Notre Dame, IU, and Rose-Hulman, and there are some later-stage companies and executives who can provide resources to new entrepreneurs and teach them how to operate their companies.
There are systemic challenges that people of color and women face in launching companies here. That’s because the venture capital industry has, historically, been dominated by white men. They don’t always understand things outside their sphere of direct knowledge. Founders of color are getting overlooked and going outside the state to look for capital. That’s a huge miss for us.
Providing funding to underrepresented groups is critical. Kelli Jones has been in the Indy tech scene for a while, though. She cofounded Sixty8 Capital, which specifically funds Black, brown, women, and LGBTQ-led startups. When we launched Malomo three years ago downtown, we raised our seed funding from two Black-led venture capital funds. That matters a lot. —As told to Dawn Olsen
Pacers Entertainment District
PACERS SPORTS & Entertainment isn’t just expanding its footprint, it’s creating a new destination for fans, tourists, and locals alike. In addition to the $360 million renovation of Gainbridge Fieldhouse now in its final stage, a massive new plaza outside and multiple buildings nearby are underway. It’s all part of a 2019 deal with the city and Capital Improvement Board to keep the Indiana Pacers in town another 25 years.
The newly named Bicentennial Unity Plaza, funded through $28.5 million from the Lilly Endowment, is a game-changer on its own. The destination right outside Gainbridge Fieldhouse includes a community basketball court that will become an ice rink (larger than Rockefeller Center’s) come winter. Visitors can rent skates, sip hot chocolate, and take in the two mammoth stainless-steel sculptures created by Honduran artist Herman Mejia that reflect the city’s history, its diversity, and striving for unity.
And there’s more. Borrowing from projects built by the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, PSE and Pacers owner Herb Simon are planning a mixed-use development that will link to the Georgia Street entertainment district. PSE will build a $20 million commercial building adjacent to the Fieldhouse with a restaurant, event space, and basement speakeasy. Simon hopes to also build two high-
rise towers where the old CSX building is at Pennsylvania and Georgia streets. One, an upscale hotel, would connect to the Fieldhouse via a skybridge. The other, a 26-story apartment building, would go up directly south of the hotel.
The Fieldhouse fully reopens before the start of the new NBA season, while the outdoor plaza debuts next spring and the mixed-use building in time for the 2024 All-Star Game.
The Case for a Culture-Focused Downtown
By investing in the creative economy, GANGGANG cofounder Mali Jeffers believes the city can create a livelier core.
A FEW DECADES ago, Indy went all in on sports. We said, “This is our thing.” Now, imagine doing that again, but with the arts. Let’s create infrastructure and plans centered around that, including more public art, more cultural startups, and more cultural entrepreneurs.
It feels like the creative ecosystem is changing for the better. GANGGANG started talking about the creative economy two years ago, but now the Department of Metropolitan Development is talking about it, too. They recognize that creativity and culture isn’t just visual art. It’s also storytelling and leisure activities and other experiences that bring us downtown. We’re actually working with DMD on the South Downtown Connectivity Vision Plan. We’re asking creatives to help us design the place. We want to know, as well as city government officials and Indy civic leaders want to know, how we can make our city feel more cosmopolitan.
Another thing we have going on right now is In the Mix, a project with Downtown Indy. We’re recruiting creative Black- and brown-owned businesses to open retail stores downtown. I think more people of culture will move downtown based on the success of that.
One of our goals is to attract CultureCon and conventions like it to Indianapolis. A more culturally savvy downtown will make or break that ask. Visitors, of course, go where the vibrancy is. That’s why the cities in America that attract the most tourists lead with culture.
BUTTER is our biggest tangible example of investing in the creative economy so far. It’s an art fair that prioritizes the artists, not the audience. When we center on creatives, Black artists in this case, we have cooler and richer and more active cities. —As told to Dawn Olsen
FOR A ROUNDABOUT that gave the city its nickname and still serves as its center, Monument Circle has struggled for decades to find an identity. A shortage of street-level retail and programming has relegated it to a place few people who don’t work there visit. In late 2019, Shining A Light, a $7.6 million installation of projectors and speakers, debuted to solve that problem. Unfortunately, the unveiling was quickly overshadowed by the pandemic.
The two years since haven’t been pretty. In addition to shuttered businesses and increased safety concerns, cleaning crews had to power wash the Circle regularly as the city’s homeless set up camp there. Not surprisingly, the nightly light show has yet to find a large audience. “The reality of our summer daylight savings time is you have to be downtown pretty late to see it,” says Bob Schultz, interim president and CEO of Downtown Indy Inc., of the technology.
As hybrid work became common, empty office spaces also contributed to the depleted scene. David Moore, a managing director at Cushman & Wakefield, who leases the Salesforce Tower and Salesforce Circle Building, acknowledges that many employees aren’t back in the office full time. But he says leasing activity has increased significantly since last year. “It’s not back to the vibrancy that it was pre-pandemic, but the trajectory, in my opinion, is heading in that direction,” he says.
Jim Walker, executive director of the cultural group Big Car, challenges the notion that there’s not enough traffic to enliven Monument Circle. “There’s not necessarily a lack of people there, there’s just a lack of places to make them stay,” he says, explaining that the Circle can feel unsafe, unwelcoming, and without many retail and restaurant offerings. In an effort to reverse this cycle, Big Car and Downtown Indy brought Spark, a placemaking project that originated in 2015, back to the Circle this summer. With experiences such as pingpong, chess, and live music, it has been a small but welcome way for visitors to engage with one another and the city’s centerpiece.