Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

A Tale of Two Marriotts

Some years back, in conjunction with an expansion of the convention center in Indianapolis, local leaders decided they needed another downtown hotel. This was partially to serve as an additional convention headquarters to allow for mutiple overlapping conventions, but also was intended to add a property in the 800-1000 room range to have something larger than the 560 room Westin. A competition was announced, city subsidies promised, and proposals put forward. These included an expansion of the Westin and Omni Severin Hotels. But the winning proposal was a Marriott Hotel by REI Investments and Whiteco, the Merrillville billboard conglomerate. This Marriott was about the same size as the Westin at 560 rooms, a bit of a surprise. But the strength of the Marriott brand and the heft of the developers was considered a plus. If this sounds strangely similar to the most recent hotel selection, you are right – this was the original Hotel Mundane, complete with generic architecture. Here is a photo. As always, click the photo for a full sized version.

This is a generic hotel box, of the type one would expect to find at Keystone Crossing – and a heavily subsidized one at that.

After the hotel proved to be a success, REI and Whiteco figured that they had a proven product they could market elsewhere, including to Indy’s competitor cities. So they made the 100 mile trip south to Louisville, where they found another city expanding a convention center and looking to built a new hotel. They collected another hefty round of subsidies and erected this building:

Indeed, these hotels are for all practical purposed identical. In effect, Indianapolis subsidized the creation of a template that could be marketed to their competitors. Of course, as bad as the design is, perhaps suckering other cities into building a copy is the best competitive move Indy could have made.

These hotels serve neither city well. The architecture is undistinguished, generic, and suburban in character. Having the same hotel in two cities only a 100 miles apart isn’t good for either place.

This hotel development I think also points out the worst trends of development in both cities. For Indianapolis, it is yet another bland, uninspiring, unambitious architectural product. Given the near perfect track record of producing structures like this, one can only conclude that this type of architecture is a deliberate civic policy. For Louisville, it shows that city’s dreadful habit of downtown development via imitation. Louisville is a city which has shown flashes of architectural brilliance, such as the Museum Plaza proposal, but too often they’ve fallen back on importing designs from elsewhere. Indy builds a downtown minor league stadium, we’ll build one too. Indy builds a Marriott Hotel, we’ll build a Marriott Hotel. Indy builds Conseco Fieldhouse, we’ll build an arena that looks suspiciously like it.

I believe to achieve their potential, both cities need to break themselves of these habits. Indy needs to seriously upgrade its urban design ambition level, not necessarily with avant guard a la Louisville, but certainly something better than extruded corporatecture product. Louisville needs to stop mindlessly copying. No, not every idea can or should be 100% original. But just importing ideas as is isn’t a good idea either. Fortunately for Louisville, in recent years the quantity of this sort of thing seems to be trending down, which is a good thing.

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Topics: Architecture and Design
Cities: Indianapolis, Louisville

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