8 Projects That Will Transform Indianapolis

As home of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the “Crossroads of America”, Indianapolis is reinventing itself in the 21st century with a batch of high-profile projects that are catching the attention of the rest of the country. As Governor Eric Holcomb has stated, Indy is quickly becoming somewhere “people can’t afford to miss”.

While Indianapolis hasn’t built over 30 stories in nearly 30 years, that is poised to change in a big way. Huge chunks of downtown-adjacent property that have sat derelict for years will soon be replaced by neighborhood-sized projects that are sure to reinvent Center Township.

And with the nation’s first all-electric BRT service finally under construction, the third decade of the 21st century is shaping up to be an exciting time for metropolitan Hoosiers.

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White River Vision Plan

Status: Proposed 

Dragon Boat races in the White River? What about urban kayaking tours from Broad Ripple to downtown — along with an activated riverfront with unbridled recreation opportunities and improved pedestrian accessibility, teeming with tourists and locals alike?  This may just be a possibility in store if the White River Vision Plan is implemented. After the progress of DigIndy, a massive tunneling project diverting storm water from the White River, the White River is yet again safe for recreation, and the possibilities are endless.

According to mywhiteriver.org, the White River Vision Plan is a “joint effort between the City of Indianapolis and Hamilton County Tourism, Inc. in partnership with Visit Indy’s philanthropic arm, Tourism Tomorrow, Inc. to develop a comprehensive and coordinated regional, community-driven plan to enhance 58 miles of the White River in Marion and Hamilton counties. The goal of the vision plan is to create an accessible, recreational, and cultural environment that encourages a unique sense of place for the community as a whole”.

Over 4,000 residents responded to a recent survey on how to develop the river, and early responses were in favor of enhanced connectivity and recreational opportunity. The project is currently in the ‘Envisioning’ stage, and concepts and designs are being  developed. There are public meetings upcoming in both Hamilton and Marion counties and you can take the White River Vision Plan Survey here.

Photo: White River Vision Plan | mywhiteriver.org

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Former Angie’s List Campus Redevelopment on East Washington Street

Status: Proposed/Under Construction 

Angie’s List announcing a leave from their campus on East Washington Street came as a surprise to some — but their merger with HomeAdvisor was a long time coming. With Angie’s hemorrhaging financially for months and enduring intense layoffs, questions with what to do with their sprawling 17.5 acre campus immediately came to the forefront in the aftermath of their exodus.

However, the loss may be a blessing in disguise for the burgeoning Holy Cross neighborhood.  Often times, the collection of buildings sandwiched between Market Street and Washington just east of Interstate 65/70 became a ghost town after Angie’s workers left. And while the company’s restoration and use of older buildings was novel in concept, without active use by the public, the buildings acted more as caricatures of what they were — rather than actually providing real use.

Enter Bill Oesterle, co-founder of Angie’s List. Head of Fred Abel LLC, an investment group, Oesterle acquired the 25-building campus early in 2018 and sees the area becoming a mixed-use neighborhood, with tech start-ups, apartments, and lively shops. Given the parcel’s location between downtown and an impoverished east-side, his plan has a chance to rejuvenate and rebuild a historic business node that was perhaps underutilized by Angie’s List. Add in the proposed Blue Line BRT along Washington Street, redevelopment of the nearby old Ford plant, as well as increasing density in the Market East district and you have the recipe for one of Indy’s coolest new n’hoods.

According to Indy Star, Oesterle hopes to start attracting tenants by the end of 2018.

Photo: East Washington St.| IndyStar

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Pan Am Plaza Redevelopment 

Status: Proposed 

Safe to say, one of the ripest sites for redevelopment downtown Indianapolis has been Pan Am Plaza. Originally built for the 1987 Pan Am games, the parcel sits adjacent to both the Indiana Convention Center and revitalized Georgia Street. While it may have hosted ESPN during Indy’s Super Bowl, the plaza remains vastly underutilized, and its prime location alongside Illinois Street has long made it a candidate for various development proposals. Finally, Kite Realty Group Trust broke through with a proposal that stands an excellent chance of getting done.

Adding a combined 1,400 hotel rooms along with a publicly-funded $120 million ballroom expansion of the Indiana Convention Center, the major element of Kite’s proposal is a Ratio-designed 38 story, 800 room Hilton-brand hotel that would either be the third or fourth tallest building in Indianapolis once completed.

Kite also plans to build a second, smaller Hilton high-rise hotel on the southeast edge of the site, which would offer around 600 rooms. The expansion of the convention center, a publicly-funded 50,000 sq. ft. ballroom — the largest in the city — would connect to both hotels and be directly linked to the rest of the convention center via skyway. City leaders have repeatedly stated that expanding the convention center is paramount to attracting and retaining the money-making conventions which have called Indianapolis home, such as FFA and GenCon.

If Kite’s hotel plan seemingly isn’t as ‘transformative’ as others on this list, it belongs due to the potential impact the 38-story hotel will have on Indy’s skyline. While building up has seen to be a hindrance for Indy developers, this project, along with CityWay’s 11 story expansion, will further grow the skyline in a southern direction. The end result will be a fuller block of towers, alongside the big three of Regions, OneAmerica, and Salesforce. It’s nice to see Indy “make it” so to say, and join some of its regional cities in building taller.

While the project will require tearing down of the existing underground parking garage, site clearance and acquisition, and city approvals, it seems there is good faith this gets done — GenCon announced a renewal of its contract with Indianapolis through 2023, shortly after the Kite proposal became public.

Photo: 38 Story Hotel Proposal | Kite Realty

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Bottleworks District

Status: Under Construction

To call the Bottleworks project transformative would be an understatement. The 12-acre site aims to create a wholly new neighborhood at the corner of Mass Ave and College Avenue downtown — this is ambition at its finest.

The $300 million mixed-use development calls not only for West Elm’s first boutique hotel (with a rooftop bar), but a food hall with dozens of vendors, 240 condominium and apartment units, an eight-screen dine-in film theater, nearly 200,000 sq. ft. of office, and 200,000 sq. ft. of retail. Developer Hendricks Commercial Properties claims the project will bring over 3,000 jobs and attract over 2 million visitors annually. Add in the retrofitting of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant and you have a project which is not only transformative, but massive in scope.

Importantly for connectivity, the project calls for restoring a street grid to what was formerly an IPS bus parking lot, extending 9th Street and creating a street arcade along Carrolton Avenue.

While retailers and tenants are currently being secured, ground broke earlier in 2018. According to Hendricks, Bottleworks will be built in phases, with street retail opening in 2020. Recently, Indianapolis tech company High Alpha announced they would be moving to the district — the first of what should be many such announcements.

Photo: Bottleworks seen from Mass and College | Ratio Architects

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Twin Aire Justice Complex

Status: Under Construction

140 acres of the former Citizens Energy Coke & Gas Plant will become Marion County’s new courthouse and jail, replacing the antiquated and un-streamlined hodgepodge of criminal justice facilities currently downtown.

Atop continuing development of Twin Aire, just to the east of Fountain Square and part of Indy’s Great Places 2020, the Justice Center promises to bring newfound vitality to the struggling southeast-side neighborhood whose industrial anchorage long ago floated away.

The nearly $600 million project will house a 3,000-bed jail, a new courthouse, the sheriff’s office, and a community center which aims to remediate those with mental illness. National architectural firm HOK was in charge of designing the campus, which includes an 11-story courts building surrounding a shorter building housing the jail.

As part of the deal, Citizens Energy will be planting 1,000 trees, and the entrance to the complex will feature a large roundabout akin to Monument Circle.

There is a hefty amount of bail-bonds, court offices and businesses centered on Delaware Street near the current courts downtown. Many expect these businesses to relocate once the new justice center opens. While some question what the future of Delaware Street will be if and when all the lawyers leave, an exciting prospect exists to think what a reimagined Delaware Street looks like –come alive from the bonds of bailsman and court-catering traffic and adjacent to the trendy Market East district.

The center is looking to open in 2021, though delays are always possible with a project of this magnitude.

Photo: Criminal Justice Center | City of Indianapolis

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16Tech

Status: Proposed, Under Construction

This massive, 60 acre, 6 million sq.-ft. public-private-partnership between the City of Indianapolis and Indiana University northwest of downtown off Indiana Avenue and 16th Street is coined as a “innovation-based community for researchers, entrepreneurs, and established companies”.

Essentially creating a neighborhood, 16Tech will be a great addition to Indy’s exploding tech scene, and surely must have taken part of the city’s Amazon bid. With proximity to major hospitals, IUPUI, and recreational trails, 16Tech looks poised to attract and retain creative workers.

When complete, the neighborhood will include a 120,000 sq. ft. anchor building, a 250-unit apartment complex, renovated office space formerly occupied by Citizens Energy Group; restaurant and retail space, and a number of infrastructure improvements, including a central greenway and a new bridge across Fall Creek that will connect the neighborhood with IUPUI, Eskenazi and Riley hospitals.

The anchor building is expected to be complete in 2020, to become home to Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, a $360-million independent research facility. While the magnitude of 16Tech is immense, progress is occurring slowly but surely. In March 2018, 16Tech announced a $38 million grant from Eli Lilly to fund an initial stage, and that Indy-based commercial real estate firm Browning will spend over $120 million to build three new buildings and renovate an existing structure on 11 acres along Waterway Boulevard.

Photo: 16Tech | Browning

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Ambrose Redevelopment of GM Stamping Plant (Waterside)

Status: Proposed

This would get the top billing on this list if not for the larger impact of another project, but Ambrose Property Group’s Waterside neighborhood easily tops the list for most potential impact by a single real estate development.

The numbers are staggering: a $1.3 billion dollar investment offering 1,350 residential units, 620 hotel rooms, 2.75 million sq. ft. of office space, 100,000 sq. ft. of retail and 12,000 jobs. If Bottleworks is ambitious, then Waterside is ridiculous – not just in its chutzpah, but in its sheer scope.

While initial investment on the site was earlier estimated around $500 million, Ambrose recently upped that number to $1.3 billion due to an expanded vision of the 103+ acre area. Beside restoring the Albert Kahn-designed crane bay to its former glory, Ambrose intends to redevelop all the surrounding land over the next 15 years, creating an entirely new mixed-use neighborhood of walkable multi-modal streets, mid-rises, apartments, single and multi-family housing, office space, and abundant recreation opportunities alongside the White River.

The third of Indy’s neighborhood-sized mega-projects alongside 16Tech and Bottleworks, Waterside has long been eyed for Indy’s Amazon bid – although, it is important to note that Ambrose has said repeatedly that Waterside is getting done with or without Mr. Bezos. By incorporating a street grid and fostering connectivity through a pedestrian bridge over the river, Ambrose is overtly attempting to seam together Waterside with the nearby and overlooked neighborhood, The Valley.

While the planning and approval process takes shape, infrastructure improvements are slated to begin in earnest during 2019, at which point White River Parkway will be rerouted through the middle of the development, allowing its former riverside right-of-way to be repurposed for recreation and pedestrian accessibility.

While the dollars haven’t flowed across the river during downtown’s building boom, that is about to change in a big way. And while decades of deindustrialization, crime, and disinvestment on the Westside may have scared developers away, Waterside, along with the proposed Blue Line BRT, will assuredly rewrite that narrative.

Get ready, folks — here comes the Westside.

Photo: Waterside | Ambrose Property Group

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Red Line Bus Rapid Transit

Status: Under Construction

Welcome to the 21st century, Indianapolis. In a city that has long suffered with one of the least reliable transit systems in the U.S., the paradigm is quickly shifting. Soon, Indianapolis will not only be home to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” but also the first all-electric BRT system in the country. And it’s suddenly looking bright for those who desire multi-modal options in car-centric Central Indiana.

The $96 million project, slated to open in 2019 and featuring frequent bus service from the University of Indianapolis to Broad Ripple, will use dedicated lanes, pre-board ticket purchase and street reconfiguration to expedite service, in which buses will generally come every ten minutes during the day. According to IndyGo, the route “will come within a quarter mile of more than 50,000 residents and nearly 150,000 jobs – a quarter of all jobs in Marion County”. The service will operate for 20 hours a day, seven days a week.

Know this, the Red Line is not just a big deal — it is an immense deal. In a city that has struggled with transit mobility since the decline of streetcar networks, the Red Line is poised to rebrand Indy as a transit-friendly community. The Red Line will act as the backbone of Central Indiana’s transit network, connecting neighborhoods, creating economic opportunities, and allow transit-oriented-development (TOD) to densify and rebuild historic urban nodes along the corridor. It will bring access to jobs for low-income residents and connect some of the largest employers in the state to each other.

The battle for BRT hasn’t been easy — many years of planning, securing grants, and plotting a successful referendum (which passed in 2016), all culminated in Indy’s success in finally bringing its residents adequate transit. Things haven’t always been rosy. Threats of lawsuit from north-side neighbors still permeate discussions about the Red Line and securing grants became an uphill battle after President Trump determined to shut down the Small Starts program that provided its funding.

But, for now, construction has started and transit fans will finally have their day. And despite the huge economic impact of some of the other projects on this list, the Red Line offers the most potential to remediate deepening social inequities and improve the quality of life for residents of Indianapolis.

Photo: Red Line in Fountain Square | IndyGo

 

 

 

© Jeffery Tompkins 2018

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