What could have been 

Some critical of downtown decisions

Some critical of downtown decisions

Downtown development is booming. But with that boom, two projects may threaten a pair of downtown landmarks. One of those projects is Simon Property Group’s plan to construct a 12- to 14-story headquarters on Capitol Commons on the west side of downtown. The plan is drawing criticism from a number of groups that want to preserve the green space that former Gov. Robert Orr fought to create in the late 1980s.
State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Henry County) joined a number of state legislators in signing a letter of opposition that was delivered to the Mayor’s Office on June 7. They stated that their understanding, at the time the park was built, was that Capitol Commons should remain a “public park” area. They also requested a meeting with city officials to discuss a more suitable solution. Saunders said, “I appreciate the Simons, but I wish they could find another spot.”

Other legislators who joined Saunders were Beverly Gard, Jeff Epich, Vaneta Becker and Phil Hinkle. City officials finally agreed late last week to hold an informational meeting with the state representatives who signed the opposition letter.

Hinkle (R-Indianapolis) pointed to several other viable options. One is the vacant parking lot on the north side of the capitol building, between the AUL Tower and the state parking garage. The state-owned land has been held for some time in hopes of building new judiciary and legislative offices. Hinkle proposes a state-county cooperative, where a building would be constructed to house the judiciary offices on the lower levels, and the Simon headquarters on the upper levels. An underground garage would be built to meet both the needs of the Simons and the state.

But this idea just didn’t work, according to city communications director Steve Campbell. Officials worked with Simon for about a year and “four other sites were offered that were looked at diligently, but for different reasons didn’t work out.”

Simon has also stated other sites were considered, including the location north of the capitol building. According to Les Morris, manager of corporate public relations for Simon, that site did not work because of the size and shape of the lot, as well as the lack of amenities for their employees. “Our employees would need to get in their cars and drive if they wanted to go out to lunch,” he said.

According to Hinkle, there was “not a lot of open discussion about this.”

The passed-over canal option

A church built in 1899 may be in jeopardy with the proposed development at the 11th Street Basin of downtown’s canal walk.

The city opened requests for bids on the project in 2000. In October of 2003, Buggs Development Group, headed by local developer John Bales, was chosen as developer for the property. Their plans include a Ritter’s Frozen Custard, a Euro-style gourmet cafe, brew pub, sandwich shop and conference space.

But John Hill, president of the Indiana Brewers Guild, is concerned that the architectural integrity of the old temple may be in danger. Hill said, “Right now it’s a beautiful old church with a balcony all around, and it still has stadium seats on both sides.”

Though the city required the outside of the building to remain intact, it placed no requirements as to the inside. Justin Ohlemiller, public information officer for the Department of Metropolitan Development, said, “The city thought all along that serious work would be required to maintain the inside and make it viable for multiple uses.”

Bales agreed. “We intend to maintain the interior of the building, while fulfilling commitments made to the city, such as public restrooms and handicap access,” he said. “We also need to maintain a safe environment for the public. The roof system and support structure had deteriorated to the point that we needed to build from the inside out.”

In 2003, Hill led a group that proposed an Indiana-focused non-profit organization that would both make use of the property, as well as maintain its historic value inside and out. Their plan was to partner with local colleges’ culinary arts and entrepreneurial programs to provide students with a hands-on program. At the same time, they would use the project to promote business with local breweries and wineries. 

“Our original idea was to turn Buggs Temple into a supper club,” Hill said. The club would use part of the space as a theater where patrons could see local performing artists, as well as a gallery where local artists could show their work. “We had an idea for Indiana breweries, Indiana wineries, Indiana artists, everything was Indiana,” he said.

But Hill was told by a representative from the city that the proposal was deemed “inappropriate” for the site.

“To my knowledge there was no mention of any proposal that was deemed inappropriate,” Ohlemiller said. “Buggs Development Group met the criteria better than any of the others and that’s why they were chosen.”

Julie Grelle, treasurer for the guild, said they are still looking for a local site to put their ideas into action, but she still thinks about what could have been. “I’m a preservationist,” she said. “What’s going to happen to that old building?”

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