Say this for the people behind 21c Museum Hotels — they move fast. The art hotel's first location opened in 2006 in a row of restored 19th-century tobacco and bourbon warehouses. Less than a decade later, three more locations (in Cincinnati, Bentonville and Durham) are up and running, two are under construction (Lexington and Oklahoma City) and two are in the planning stages (Kansas City and Louisville).
Add Indianapolis to that planning category. The city and the museum announced plans last week to redevelop Old City Hall, pending loans from the city and HUD. If funding is secured, the hotel would restore Old City Hall to make room for an art museum, restaurant and office space for other tenants. 21c would also construct a new addition on the adjacent parcel, currently a parking lot, to make room for hotel rooms and other modern amenities.
As 21c's Stephanie Greene helpfully explains, if you look right once you walk in the doors of Old City Hall, you'll see 21c's art museum, free and open to the public; look left, and you'll find 21c's restaurant; and look up and you'll find space that has been restored to allow for other tenants (none have been secured, but the museum is in talks with the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the University of Indianapolis regarding the available space).
We did mention that 21c moves fast? It's only been a year and a half since Steve Wilson, a co-founder of 21c with Laura Lee Brown, attended a National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Indianapolis, where a breakout session looked at the feasibility of revitalizing City Hall. Greene notes that all 21c projects have taken shape when local soon-to-be partners reached out to 21c — not the other way around.
21c's founders are passionate about three things, according to Greene: Contemporary art, urban revitalization and preservation and preserving urban farmland. As for the latter, the founders would contend that by restoring existing infrastructure in urban areas, they can do their part, building by building, to discourage suburban sprawl.
But doesn't Indianapolis already have two hotels with contemporary art programs? The Alexander, which opened with a substantial collection of contemporary art on display in public and private spaces, became home last fall to the second location of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. And The Conrad houses the Long-Sharp Gallery, which typically pairs living artists with works by big names from the last century like Warhol and Picasso.
Greene answers that 21c "looks to be a complement to what already exists in Indianapolis," pointing out that it's partnering with Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center on a show soon to open in that city's 21c location. And even if 21c's concept isn't unique to the city, this is certainly a good time to open a hotel here. According to a recent study by hotel tracking firm STR, Inc., the occupancy rate at Indianapolis hotels last year (through October) was 66.4 percent, the highest since 2006. And the occupancy rate for downtown hotels was even higher: 74.1 percent.
"We of course do our due diligence in entering any market," Greene says when asked what 21c makes of the hospitable climate for more hospitality. "21c will provide the city with another unique hotel, one that will add to the city's hotel offerings."
Greene describes 21c as an art museum with several locations. A show commissioned by museum director Alice Gray Stites will typically tour several museum/hotel locations. Artists exhibited in the museum in the recent past include Bill Viola, Yinka Shonibare, Camille Utterback, Tony Oursler and Alfredo Jaar (whose interactive work is currently on display at the IMA).