INDIANAPOLIS — Sashia Hayes and Tamara Lyles walked out of the nearly deserted City Market at lunchtime Monday, frustrated by the darkened stalls they found inside.

“We were trying to find something to eat but everything’s closed,” said Lyles. “Now we’re upset and we’re gonna wander around until we find something else.”

Ever since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago and the abandonment of downtown and the City-County Building by office workers, the City Market has resembled a ghost town even at high noon when traditionally customers stood in long lines for food and hunted for empty tables in the Market’s balcony seating section.

The fruitless search for food continued today but dozens of vacant tables awaited customers that were nowhere to be found.

The City of Indianapolis thinks one solution may be to provide the Market with a ready customer base right next door.

For the first time, the City has revealed it is seeking developer proposals for building a high-rise apartment building on the site of the Market’s East Hall and East Plaza.

Provided by City of Indianapolis

“What we’d like to see is housing,” said Scarlett Andrews, director of Metropolitan Development. “What we’d like to see a denser, probably pretty tall housing development, and some more commercial use on the bottom, maybe some more family-friendly stuff.”

The City has released a Request for Proposals that would envision residential space with affordable and market-rate housing with an emphasis on three-bedroom apartments on the footprint of the current East Wing which is home to the Indy Bike Hub.

“It’s an incredible opportunity. We don’t put out these type of RFPs often. This is kind of a once in a generation opportunity to invest in downtown,” said Andrews who expects any developer to maintain the Bike Hub along with commercial and public space on the ground floor and on the plaza. “We don’t want any commercial uses, even restaurant or whatever, to compete with the Market, so we want something that is going to drive the customer base to.”

More clients walking next door to the Market would please Brenda Barratt where her Jack’s Barber Shop was one of only three businesses open Monday.

“We would have built-in business right there. We’ll have a lot of customers over there who would want to come over and eat and get a haircut and go shopping,” said Barrett as she trimmed a customer’s beard. “I like the idea that they’re thinking of something different because I think there’s plenty of restaurants around here and in here. I think that’s a fabulous idea. Something a little different.”

The RFP includes references to the City’s commitment to not only renovate the City Market but also the Old City Hall two blocks north on Alabama Street.

Also included in the City’s Market East plans is an RFP for the original Cole Motor Car Company on East Washington Street which has housed Marion County Jail II for 25 years and the former Arrestee Processing Center just behind it on East Market Street.

“The inside of the building is kind of a blank slate because it’s been a variety of uses. You could rip out everything inside and start over and I think what we’re looking for there is more of a reuse,” said Andrews. “You could see housing there. You could see offices. You could see other commercial uses. We’d like to see some ground-level activation so you have a reason not to just pass it by when you’re driving or you’re walking or you’re biking. Some kind of educational use could be of use of those buildings, so it’s really just an open book.”

The City is also soliciting ideas from developers on how to renovate the City County Building center tower and the building’s two wings that are being vacated by the relocation of criminal and civil courts to the new Community Justice Center in Twin Aire east of Fountain Square.

“Downtown living is absolutely crucial,” said Andrews who anticipates developer proposals for the CCB wings to include residential components, “and what we see now is that downtown occupancy rates are over 90 percent so that’s incredibly healthy for a downtown. Folks do want to live downtown and what we don’t have is enough housing.”

While on her way to find somewhere for lunch, Sashia Hayes said she wasn’t buying into the City’s downtown living vision.

“I do not think that is a good idea because who wants to live across the street from the City-County Building?” she asked. “It’s not comfortable for me at all, especially at night.

“It just seems to me more gentrification of downtown,” Hayes continued. “There’s too much traffic. Everything’s gonna be too expensive to come downtown. It’s too much traffic, it’s a pain to park and you can’t get to where you’re going because it’s closed. It doesn’t make too much sense. So you open apartments and then what? We still don’t have nowhere to eat. So now you got apartments but no restaurants.”

With the Market behind them virtually empty, Hayes and Lyles walked off looking for somewhere to eat on the eastside of downtown.

The City expects developers to submit their City Market East Housing and Plaza Redevelopment plans by mid-March with the Jail II and APC proposals to follow a month later.