UPDATE (Sept. 27, 2019)-- This project has been called off. Read more here.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – City officials, planners and a consultant unveiled their broad plans for redevelopment of the former General Motors Stamping Plant site on Oliver Street near the west bank of the White River.
“This is a beachhead,” said City Councilman Jeff Miller whose downtown district extends to the southwest side neighborhood called The Valley. “It’s everything we didn’t do the first time.”
Miller was referring to the plans of Mayor Greg Ballard three years ago to locate the city’s new jail and criminal justice center on the property GM left behind when it filed for bankruptcy during the 2008 recession.
Residents and politicians of both parties felt the Ballard plan to remake the site was a done deal leading to sparsely attended community meetings to push a $500 million private construction plan that died due to a lack of City County Council and financial support.
This time, Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration has conducted more inclusive community meetings and drawn up a proposal that not only reimagines the former factory property but also extends its renovation to nearby neighbors such as the Indianapolis Zoo and the White River.
"You can't have transformative redevelopment without neighborhood input," said Jeff Bennett, deputy mayor of community development. "Hearing what they wanted and what they didn’t want was important for us."
Dozens of residents from the Valley neighborhood showed up to Tuesday's meeting at Edison School of Arts IPS #47 to see, first-hand, what months of feedback has led to in terms of plans.
"We’re very excited about this," resident Jay Napoleon said. "We think it has potential to help not only our neighborhood but to truly transform the way we look at our city as a whole."
“What I love in particular is they’ve taken the river, which has normally been an obstacle, a barrier, and instead said, ‘This is an asset. This is an amenity. This is a destination. Let’s make this key,’” said Miller. “I really see this as a good chance to get good bids that are productive for downtown, productive for the neighborhood and for the west side as a whole.”
The 103-acre parcel is valued at $9 million and under control of the RACER Trust which inherited the land from the struggling automaker with the understanding it would clean up any hazardous materials left behind.
An outdoor concert venue site was also part of the failed 2014 proposal.
Maps at the city’s website portray not only the site’s proximity to downtown but also the extension of South and Division Streets to divide the plot up into neighborhood blocks.
“What the neighborhood would really like to see is mixed use, livable area, some amenities, of course, the river activated, because that’s going to spur development to the neighborhood to the south and continue out west,” said Miller. “Whenever you have somewhere that is a destination, you get the coffee shops, you get the restaurants, you get the things that people are going to stay and enjoy for a while.”
A website sketch portrays a busy riverbank with pedestrians and wave surfers enjoying the White River which is still struggling to overcome decades of pollution and neglect.
“People are talking about a beach. People are talking about docking so you can go in and canoe so we can make it something fun,” said Miller. “This is going to activate the river not just at that one site all the way up to 16th Street and then all the way down perhaps as far as Raymond.”
Connectivity to the city’s core and the surrounding neighborhoods will be essential as the White River Bike Path, the Cultural Trail, a pedestrian bridge over the river and a people mover to the zoo are also envisioned.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of options that are mixed use/retail myself but I also think it’s interesting that connection to the zoo,” said Miller.
The zoo has long sought additional parking options so as to expand its site north of West Washington Street for more animal exhibits.
Steve Mascher spent 30 years at the GM factory, which began building freight wagons more than 100 years ago, as a tool-and-die man.
“By the end it was a real class deal,” he said. “You have to remember it was really a part of this city’s history.”
Mascher, who owns the building that housed Sam’s Saloon--purported to be Indianapolis’ oldest tavern--east of Fountain Square, predicted the Valley and the former factory property would be a destination location for downtown residents on bikes and on foot.
“I think it will work west real well. With as many people coming down here, it’s turning around and people really make things happen.”
The city expects to receive bids from developers all around the world and pick a winner later this year. A groundbreaking date will depend on negotiations between the buyer and the city.