Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Development: Senate Ave. and St. Clair St. -- A Blank Slate

Several years ago this warehouse went on the market (9th St. and the Canal, still currently used by Kirkbride Bible Co.):

Then sometime in the last year or so, this warehouse went on the market (east side of Senate Ave., between St. Clair St. and Walnut St., previous tenant unknown):

Then a couple weeks ago, this warehouse went on the market (St. Clair St. and the Canal, formerly B.H. Gardner Co.):

And now, as of a week or so ago, this warehouse is on the market (St. Clair St. and Capitol Ave., formerly Litho Press Inc.):

The former Litho Press building is a full quarter-block, four story building at St. Clair St. and Capitol Ave. It's just begging for a first rate refurb that opens up the huge window openings that were bricked-up years ago. It could be a great residential loft conversion, though many other uses are certainly possible. An 88 space parking lot is associated with the building. Here are a couple photos that show the detailing on this old warehouse:
The Southeast corner of the building, St. Clair St. facade.

Same location, focusing on the roofline.

Looking West at the Capitol Ave. facade.

Same location, focusing on the detail around the main entrance.

The Northeast corner of the building.

With the Litho Press building now on the market, my eyeball estimate is that about 25% of the land in the four city blocks around the intersection of Senate Ave. and St. Clair St. is now actively for sale. Additionally 15% or so could be classified as completely vacant or underutilized (though not actively for sale). Talk about a blank slate!

Here's a look at the land for sale (sites outlined in green) and vacant/underutilized (outlined in red), with the Cultural Trail route through this area in blue:

View Senate and St. Clair in a larger map (longer descriptions of each site are also available).

With this much land simultaneously available, it behooves the city to have a specific, long-term vision for how redevelopment of this area should progress. This is doubly important given that this area sits adjacent to the future crossroads of Indianapolis' two great urban walkways: the Cultural Trail and the Central Canal Walk. The Indianapolis Regional Center Plan 2020 specifies 'Residential 27-49 DUA' (Dwelling Units per Acre) for the block northwest of the intersection and 'Research Community Mixed-Use' for the remaining three blocks.

What goals should the city have for this area?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Photos: More Al Fresco Dining on Washington St.

New outdoor seating areas recently opened for The Pita Pit and Adobo Grill.

Looking East on Washington St., just East of Pennsylvania St.

The expansion of al fresco dining on Washington St. doesn't end there. At the intersection of Washington and Illinois, Tastings, a new wine bar in the Conrad that is scheduled to open in the fall, plans to have outdoor seating on the northeast corner, while Panera Bread has filed plans to have a seating area on the northwest corner (opening date not yet known).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Development: B.H. Gardner Discussion

The B.H. Gardner site I posted about a couple weeks ago is now the focus of some more in-depth reporting by Indianapolis Business Journal and an extended commentary by The Urbanophile. Both are highly recommended reading.

In response to the IBJ article, I'd like to address two specific comments. The first is by Dennis Dye of Browning Investments Inc.:
The challenge with retail is that St. Clair Street and Senate Avenue isn’t exactly “Main and Main,” he said.
I believe Mr. Dye's comment misses two points:

1. The intersection of St. Clair St. and Senate Ave. isn't "Main & Main" not because something else is there, but because there's NOTHING there. Literally: the northeast corner of that intersection is a completely undeveloped grass lot (the other three are parking lots). Rather than being a drawback, I'd call that a blank slate upon which to build anything you want -- including making it the next residential/commercial corner in downtown.

2. There is untapped potential in that area to support retail. I've estimated in the past that the immediate vicinity of the canal is the highest density residential in the city. To give an idea of what I'm talking about, here are the approximate total residential units in the apartment complexes along the canal:
425 Gardens of Canal Court
275 Canal Square
125 Canal Overlook
825 units
At 1.5 people-per-unit occupancy (it's probably higher), that's a capacity for 1,238 residents in the canal apartment complexes. That doesn't even include people living in the Watermark condos, Fayette St., and Senate Manor (not to mention Ransom Place across West St.). By next year -- when 218 units will be open in the Cosmopolitan on the Canal -- I'd estimate roughly 2,000 people will live within one block of the canal, with nearly zero retail to support it. This is at least twice as many residents as any neighborhood in downtown, in an area that only stretches from New York to 10th St. Flaherty & Collins recognizes this opportunity and built retail into the Cosmo; any development at St. Clair and the canal should be expected to follow suit.

The second comment in the IBJ article that I'd like to address concerns potential uses of this site:
The most feasible use of the parcels is for apartments or for an expansion of an existing campus of buildings serving Clarian Health and Indiana University, real estate brokers said.
Simply put, it would be huge, HUGE folly to allow Clarian or IUPUI to develop this land. I cannot stress that point enough. Neither is land-starved at their main campuses and both have already proven themselves to be incompetent in designing their existing buildings' integration with both the canal and the urban setting. It would be terrible to let them continue to suck up valuable canal-front land for strictly self-serving buildings. If IUPUI and Clarian REALLY feel the need to expand in that area, they should build a parking garage next to Fairbanks Hall and put that gigantic parking lot to better use.

Rather than allowing them to expand their presence, we should actually work in the opposite direction. I suggest that IUPUI shrink their footprint in the area by relinquishing the IU Emerging Technologies Center (ETC) parking lot between the ETC building and 9th St. That would open up three contiguous canal-front properties to redevelopment, a potentially enticing option for local developers. As for the loss of parking at the ETC, they could still maintain their main lot on 10th St. and there's more than enough additional parking available in the Fairbanks Hall lot for overflow. The land that their secondary lot occupies is far too useful and valuable to continue to be used for a parking lot.

The B.H. Gardner site and the warehouse site immediately north of it are critical to the continued development of a cohesive neighborhood between the canal and Senate Ave. I would rather see those sites lie fallow than allow more bad development to scuttle the opportunity of this area.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Development: Canal Restaurants -- One Opportunity Not Yet Lost

While the natural draw of the Central Canal presents a unique opportunity for restaurants to generate business during the warm summer months, an almost complete lack of drawing power during the winter makes profitable business during those cold months nearly impossible. Because of that, and despite all the clamoring that is commonly heard for canal-side dining, the near-term odds for full-year canal restaurants are dismal.

For now, I believe that the best prospects for year-round restaurants on the canal are at the interfaces of streets and the canal. Bi-level restaurants with one floor fronting the street and the lower floor fronting the canal would provide restaurants with the best of both worlds: the draw of canal-side dining during the warm months and the safety of a standard street-front for advertising and access during cold months. Unfortunately, there are precious few of these locations left (one such opportunity exists at the B.H. Gardner site I recently wrote about).

There is also a similar opportunity presented by the head of the canal. That northern terminus slopes up to street level all around, in a way providing canal-front at street level. The restaurants in Buggs Temple can make it work as year-round restaurants right now because they front both the canal and 11th St. (obviously, their proximity to three mid-rise office buildings and a transit stop doesn't hurt). Unfortunately, the unique opportunity of this zone was wasted in the IU/Clarian Fairbanks Hall and almost completely squandered by the IUPUI Health Information and Translational Sciences (HITS) Building.

An opportunity for Fairbanks Hall to interact with 10th St. (and the canal) was lost.

The HITS Building was dedicated in 2007, providing 167k sq.ft. in a 6-story $42M concrete structure. Almost all of its canal frontage is occupied by office windows and a massive main entrance. However, it also provides an interesting, and until now completely vacant, space immediately next to the entrance.

The IUPUI Health Information and Translational Sciences Building.

At the HITS Building groundbreaking ceremony, it was reported that, "When completed in 2006, the building also will include restaurants and other shops to serve the occupants of the building and the general public." When the building was dedicated on March 7, 2007, the IU School of Medicine's press release stated, "As an added convenience for employees, the building includes 3,810 square feet of retail space for a café and other specialty shops." Two-and-a-half years on and none of this promise has materialized, though fortunately, the space is still available.

Three doors provide access: two seen here to the right of the main entrance
that open directly to the canal -- one is partially behind the first pillar, the
other is between the third and fourth pillars -- and one off of the main lobby.

Utilizing this space seems like such a slam dunk for both the building and the canal that, even if it were a chain of some sort operated by Chartwells (the IUPUI Food Service contractor), I'm not sure why this space still isn't occupied. Parking could be a concern, but a core business of serving lunch to employees working in and around this building should not require parking. Serving dinner is probably a stretch, but opening up the 27 parking spaces in the small lot on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. side of the building to after hours public parking could also make dinner service viable. The visibility of the building on 10th and 11th Sts. also provides an opportunity for signage to advertise such a space.

A small parking lot for the HITS Building sits next to Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. St., with an entrance off of 10th St. shown here.

Whatever the reason for the delay up to this point, here's hoping we don't have to wait another two and a half years for this space to be put to good use.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Photos: Market St. Reconstruction Preview

The Market St. ramp is long gone and the reconstruction of Market St. is nearly complete. I'll likely have a full spread of pictures once this project is complete, but for now, here's a taste of how things are turning out (photos taken during the SSC Tour on August 22).