Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
As part of its “Insider’s Guide to Downtown Issue”, Indianapolis Monthly did a full page spread this month featuring Yours Truly discussing four major forthcoming projects: the JW Marriott complex, the convention center expansion, the Indy Cultural Trail, and the Superbowl.
While I thought the editors did a good job of capturing the essence of what we discussed, the format limited the space available to only a few sentences for each project. So I thought I’d give a more complete version here. No, this won’t be a famous Urbanophile “N Part In Depth Review”, but just a quick look at the good and bad of the projects, which Indianapolis is very fortunate to have funded and under construction in the current economy.
JW Marriott Hotel
- This complex will be an economic juggernaut. With 1,600 rooms in the main complex + another 600 in the existing Marriott, this own grouping can provide a Chicago or Atlanta sized block of rooms, putting the city in the running for business meetings it previously could not host. The main tower alone will have 1,000 rooms.
- The 34 story main tower will add to the skyline significantly on the west side of downtown
- The main tower is probably the most interesting of any downtown skyscraper. I like the arced shape, which again echoes the library expansion, the steel arches on I-465 at 71st and 86th St., and of course Monument Circle. This sort of acts as a bookend to that side of downtown.
- It will bring major critical mass to what is down a relatively empty area.
- Kudos to Dean White who was responsive to the desire for better architecture, and his willingness to iterate the design concept multiple times.
- The secondary towers are very bland. They look like suburban interstate highway hotels and don’t blend with the main tower at all.
- The complex is inward facing and does not engage well with the street at all. It is yet another downtown campus.
- The facade is, well, blue. Very blue. During the day I think there’s a risk this will end up looking like a slightly more transparent version of the Gold Building. OTOH, at night, the transparency makes this look very nice.
Convention Center Expansion
- A solid, workmanlike, unpretentious building like many in Indianapolis.
- The new entrance on Georgia St. will frame the street and be a nice focal point.
- The new space will surely generate economic ROI
- One word: boring.
- The interior renderings show a very dull space. I sure hope that, at a minimum, they dramatically improve lighting, as well as spruce up the existing dowdy space.
- With the airport project showing the way for how the architecture of major civic spaces can transform a person’s perception of a city, I can’t help but consider this a major opportunity lost for the city to create another signature design. Especially at the price tag, Indy deserved better. And I know that Ratio Architects has better in them, since they’ve done some great local work like the LEED Gold certified KIB building.
Indy Cultural Trail
- The Trail is everything Indianapolis should be looking to do. It is world class, innovative, looks right in the local context, is environmentally friendly, is helping to reposition the city for 21st century success, and should generate major economic benefits. This is a home run for the city.
- Taking 18-36 feet of road away from cars and giving it to people.
- Separate paths for bikes and pedestrians along much of the length.
- High quality art work along the trail, much of it bespoke commissions.
- Links disconnected subdistricts of downtown, and serves as the downtown hub of the greenway systems.
- Significant upgrade of city infrastructure. About $20 million of the $55 million price tag is actually pure infrastructure improvement, including replacing aging sewer lines and such
- Use of rain gardens for stormwater detention.
- High density, low mast street lighting makes a dramatic impact on the city and creates a 24 hour space.
- Financed with primarily private dollars, notably very generous contributions from Gene and Marilyn Glick, with some federal grants. No local tax dollars are involved beyond in kind contributions from the city
- $3 million endowment to be established to maintain the Trail over time.
- Private non-profit organization Indianapolis Cultural Trail, Inc. chartered to manage, maintain, and market the Trail over time.
- The trail is overly festooned with logos and signage, but I guess that’s the price we pay for a privately financed civic amenity.
- I wish the budget had been increased in order to replace the stop light mast arms with the versions used in the Wholesale District. This is a big gap in the project, IMO, since not only would that have been a huge upgrade, it would be helped establish those as a city standard.
Super Bowl 2012
- The renderings of the Super Bowl village on the streets were conceptual drawings for the sales cycle, so we shall see what the real ones look like. I do like the idea of covering the streets, and the potential for reuse of modular canopy units.
- There is no doubt in my mind that the city will execute on this. Nobody hosts events like Indianapolis
- Call me crazy, but I think there’s a possibility Indy could blow this thing out of the water and potentially be a semi-regular cold weather city host.
- The East Side legacy project.
- Mostly privately funded project.
- I believe this will be a major coming out party for Indianapolis.
- The current economy means that a lot of the spin-off development won’t happen. The Super Bowl would have been a major impetus to get some projects done, but without financing, many plans won’t happen, alas.
- There’s a risk that preparing for what is, after all, only a two week event will suck up bandwidth that should be going to other critical issues.
I also noted that there is a gap that needs to be filled. Namely the streets around Lucas Oil Stadium need major streetscape upgrades. The concrete plaza around the stadium is also quite weak. These are clear evidence of the budget challenges on the project because the city did it right with Conseco Fieldhouse where it extend the Wholesale District streetscape concept. In addition to doing this around LOS, the power lines need to be buried. Part of this should include a power-line free South St.
For those who prefer the print edition, the feature is on page 63 of the August issue. Thanks to Indy Monthly for the feature, and for doing such a fair job of representing what I said in distilled form.