Sunday, March 16, 2014

The MSA site: Nice building, lost opportunity

Posted By on Sun, Mar 16, 2014 at 4:00 AM

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I like what I've seen of the 28-story tower being proposed for the site where Market Square Arena once stood. It appears to be an elegant design - and it's a damn sight better than a surface parking lot.

It appears, thankfully, that Indianapolis has finally gotten past the idea that surface parking equals Downtown architecture. But then paving over empty lots is what happens when people are, for whatever reason, unwilling to invest in a place.

It's hard to believe, but MSA was demolished in July 2001. It's even harder to believe it's taken this long for the city to field an apparently viable proposal to develop what has to be considered one of its most important pieces of real estate.

The project, being developed by Flaherty & Collins, will make a handsome addition to the city's skyline, acting as a kind of eastern bookend to the Marriot tower on Downtown's west side.

The only trouble is, once you get past the design's good looking curves, you have to admit the project itself is, well, boring.

It's like a paint-by-numbers kit: 300 luxury apartments on top, with 43,000 square feet of retail space (including, maybe, a Whole Foods! - the aspirational brand name local developers seem most eager to drop) on the ground level and, of course, plenty of parking.

As happy as I am to finally see something happening on the MSA site, I can't help but feel the city has lost an opportunity here. That site is like Downtown's eastern gateway. It was an opportunity for Indianapolis to make a major cultural statement.

In June, an organization called The New Cities Foundation will be holding a two-day conference in Dallas for over 1,000 leaders from around the world. The purpose of this meeting will be to explore the ways arts and culture districts can help cities compete in a global, 21st century economy.

The NCF, which has headquarters in Geneva and Paris, argues that over the next decade some $250 billion will be invested in the creation of new cultural districts in cities around the world. These districts are seen as necessary hubs for the attraction and nurturing of the kind of workers who are making the new international economy sing. The NCF has created something called the Global Culture Districts Network to help cities make the most of their cultural assets.

That Dallas meeting, by the way, is being co-chaired by Maxwell Anderson, the former head of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

It's not that Indy's leaders are blind to the need for this kind of development. The conversion of Old City Hall into a center for urban planning is a step, albeit modest, in the right direction.

But for Indianapolis to flourish, it will have to invest in culture the way it has in sports. Not just in order to provide something for all those posh apartment dwellers to do - but to make itself relevant to the rest of the world.

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