Planning – and a touch of serendipity – REVITALIZE INDY
by Mary Dieter, President, MED Communications LLC
For some, a moment of serendipity serves as inspiration to envision something more, do something big. For others, years of meticulous planning are ignited with a spark of good fortune.
Serendipity or vision, good fortune or good planning: It took both to bring these three recent developments in Indianapolis to fruition.
The Crane Bay
Gary Padjen was on a mission: Having been elected an officer in the NFL Alumni Association, the retired Indianapolis Colts linebacker wanted to find a comfortable meeting spot for his organization’s 154-member, Indianapolis-based contingent.
Until he found the place – a former factory where pot belly stoves were manufactured and electric motors were refurbished – it hadn’t occurred to Padjen that he also would find a new professional pursuit and an exciting opportunity to be involved in making his adopted hometown a better place.
But somehow, through the shards of 500 broken windows, Padjen saw the potential for something big when he first eyed the 150-year-old building at 551 W. Merrill St.
“It was way bigger than I was imagining for our NFL alumni house,” Padjen said of the 18,000-square-foot building that he first saw in August 2011. “But then I started thinking about the opportunities if I were to restore this building, what I could do with Super Bowl parties, Big 10 parties and an event center downtown here where there’s nothing like this place.”
Padjen enlisted other investors to conduct a $900,000 restoration of the building, which is just two blocks from the southwest corner of Lucas Oil Stadium – home to his former team and site of the 2012 Super Bowl. The Crane Bay – so named because of the numerous hoists that remain suspended above the party floor – was selected by Rolling Stone magazine for its first-ever Super Bowl party the night before, bringing media attention to the new venue.
“If we make our facility a success down here, that will bring a lot of people here,” Padjen said. “That will bring excitement down here. That will bring the horsepower that we need to get these programs kicked off.
“I never dreamed I’d be part of an economic change in the city of Indianapolis but I’m really proud to do that.”
For decades, neighborhood and business associations have tried to inject modern life into the near south side of Indianapolis, an area dotted with large parcels of undeveloped land. The Concord Business Association conducted a study in 2008 and 2009 of the Concord District, including the area immediately around Lucas Oil Stadium, and identified a “very rough mix of industries, offices and hotels that aren’t conducive at all with one another.”
The stadium was “a game changer,” but not a panacea, said Stephen Alexander, an architect and a neighborhood development cheerleader. Some industries still operate in the neighborhood, but there also are large, undeveloped parcels of land and plenty of brownfields. Some residents have been in place for 60 years, so redevelopment efforts could not start with a clean slate.
The business association toyed with several names but ultimately dubbed the area Stadium Village to communicate clearly the neighborhood’s location and to suggest that it ultimately can be comparable to places such as Broad Ripple Village and Fountain Square, Alexander said.
Conveying that message is no small task. Alexander said that the business association has been grappling with developing “the neighborhood that nobody knows about,” including attracting attention from city government. That’s why he was thrilled when Padjen and his fellow investors “just sort of dropped out of the sky. . . That’s the kind of partnership that we need to be our face, if you will, to help give us legitimacy.”
To be sure, the near south side already had had an enormous boost with the development of CityWay on a 14-acre parcel north of Eli Lilly and Co.’s headquarters.
The $155 million project features a 209-room, four-star hotel, which will contain 40 works of art (12 of which are new commissions) and will be LEED-certified environmentally friendly; 250 upscale urban apartments; 40,000 square feet of retail and office space; and a 75,000-square-foot YMCA. The site will be friendly to pedestrians and feature considerable green space and event space. South and Delaware streets will see significant streetscape and landscape improvements designed to enhance pedestrian experiences and safety.
Construction began in August 2011; the first apartments are set to be available in October; and the project is expected to be completed by late 2013.
Scott Travis, senior development executive for Buckingham Cos., credited Lilly leaders with the vision to pursue CityWay. CEO John Lechleiter “understood that if his company is going to attract and retain the best talent there needed to be a differentiator beyond just the services provided on campus,” Travis said. “How they connect to the city, how they connect to the community, what it’s like to live, work and play downtown are game-changers in today’s hiring for those key positions.”
It was Buckingham’s good fortune to be selected four years ago by Lilly leaders to evaluate the parcel and identify what amenities should be built, Travis said. There were other instances of serendipity: Other major employers – WellPoint, Indiana Farm Bureau and Rolls Royce – are located nearby, making the CityWay investment even more strategic. And the 14-acre parcel was available for development, with no need to tear down structures or move tenants.
“To have 14 acres in the central business district in any city is an extremely rare opportunity, certainly without the need to take down existing structures.” Travis said.
CityWay is likely the largest multi-purpose development ever to be undertaken in Indianapolis, according to Travis. Even so, the 14-acre site – available from Lilly on a ground lease – has enough room left for another 400,000 square feet of development, he said. “We have to wait for the market to tell us what that will entail.”
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