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.

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