Downtown's bright future
Indy's skyline getting a lift
Simon, Conrad and Lucas Oil Stadium are ushering in a new era of high-rise growth
By Tom Spalding
December 16, 2006
After a 16-year lull, the Downtown skyline again is looking up.
The 14-story Simon headquarters and 23-story Conrad hotel quietly cracked the city's top 20 tallest buildings this year.
And others will soon join them: Lucas Oil Stadium will stand 260 feet when it opens in 2008. A roughly 1,000-room hotel that could reach 25 to 44 stories tall, depending on what proposal is selected, will follow by 2010. And on the eastern edge of Downtown, a high-rise is still hoped for on the old Market Square Arena site.
"The last great period of high-rises was back in the late 1980s. . . . It seems to me that we may be headed for a similar time, for different reasons," said Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson. "It's a little different kind of a boom, but, yes, we're seeing that."
Since 2000, $2.7 billion worth of projects have been completed in generally the Mile Square, said Indianapolis Downtown Inc.'s Terry Sweeney, vice president of real estate development. In the next four years, $2.9 billion more are planned, he said.
In some ways, what's going up, construction-wise, is a symbolic measuring stick of the economy. There's so much construction happening on Downtown's western edge, with the new football stadium and Indiana Convention Center expansion, that the resulting congestion is expected to cut into the city's convention and tourism business in the next couple of years.
But Bob Schultz, spokesman for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, loves the cranes.
"Whether Indianapolis is your eventual destination or a pass-through, it will be hard to miss as the skyline changes," Schultz said. "Most dramatically, you see that with cranes. A city with cranes is a city with opportunity.
"What it does is present a perception that Indianapolis is progressive, is moving forward, is willing to take good and sturdy steps toward progress and has an infrastructure to support it. In this day and age, you just don't build a building and hope people fill it. You've got to have strong demand."
Unlike the last boom, the construction is driven by tourism and leisure, not work. Hotels and sports facilities have been the dominant additions Downtown, not the office skyscrapers, such as Chase Tower, OneAmerica Tower, One Indiana Square and 300 N. Meridian.
There is still plenty of office space. Downtown has had a vacancy rate of about 16 percent in recent months, according to Colliers Turley Martin Tucker.
"I think it just shows the continuing coming of age, or revitalization, of Downtown," Sweeney said. "From retail, entertainment and corporate standpoints, they are meeting a demand that is identified in the market."
But Indianapolis has never been much of a skyscraper town. It will never compete with skyscraper-mad Chicago or have the visual impact of some smaller cities.
"It's not part of our culture here. . . . We have a pretty small footprint" compared with some other Midwestern cities, said Scott Truex, director of Ball State University's College of Architecture and Planning's Indianapolis Center.
Downtown construction was long kept in check by a city ordinance that limited the height of buildings in the area immediately around the 284-foot Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which was completed in the early 1900s. (A less-strict version of the ordinance, which protects the statue from being bathed in shadows, still exists.)
Indianapolis did not have a discernible skyline until 1970, when workers finished the 504-foot Indiana National Bank Tower (now known as One Indiana Square) with its coal-black windows and white trim. The building drew residents Downtown on Sundays to marvel at the construction.
The tower and the 372-foot City-County Building, built in 1962, were the first duo of contemporary tall buildings.
The 533-foot American United Life (now OneAmerica) building came in 1982 -- followed by the Market Tower, 300 N. Meridian and First Indiana Plaza, all taller than 400 feet.
The growth explosion culminated in 1990, when work ended on the skyline's contemporary exclamation point: the 811-foot Bank One Tower (now Chase Tower) -- now the world's 120th-tallest building, according to Emporis, a prominent building industry research firm.
Since then, most of the construction has filled in the gaps. One Emmis Plaza went up on the Circle in 1998, followed by Conseco Fieldhouse in 1999.
"It's all very positive," said David Reed, managing director of CB Richard Ellis/Indianapolis and a board member of The Indy Partnership. "This is all driven by demand."
A Downtown population that went from 7,644 in 1990 to 10,324 in 2000, according to census figures, has helped build restaurant and retail success.
Now the attention is on the new football stadium. At 260 feet, it is more than 70 feet higher than the RCA Dome and close to 100 feet higher than Conseco Fieldhouse.
"Lucas Oil is going to be enormous," said Peterson. "I don't think people have any idea how big that's going to be -- somewhere between a 22- and 25-story building in height. That's going to be a little shocking . . . a real presence on the skyline."
In addition to a new football stadium, an expanded Convention Center and a flagship hotel, the city has hopes for a residential skyscraper on the eastern edge of Downtown, with condos rising from the former site of Market Square Arena.
Former longtime Mayor William Hudnut, now an urban-planning guru based in Washington, D.C., said Indy doesn't need to add skyscrapers to consider itself major-league. "I just don't see that Indy needs that, if it can provide good housing lower towards the ground. You don't need high-rise condos . . . to dot the skyline. But if there's a market for it, wonderful."