Downtown Indianapolis: Then & Now

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By James Clark
Senior Associate
JLL Indianapolis

The video above highlights Indianapolis Star columnist Edward Pierre’s vision for the future of downtown Indianapolis. His 1953 column describes what Indianapolis’s CBD will look like 25 years later, in 1978. Mike Ahern’s evaluation of the article clearly shows that very little of what Mr. Pierre predicted, for better or worse, came true.

Thirty seven years after this news clip, our CBD is thriving. The empty lots that Ahern reported from are now well developed. New restaurants and microbreweries are sprouting up every month, unique multifamily developments sit on what used to be poorly utilized real estate, and a transit center is in the early stages of construction. This begs the question: how did we get to this point?

There are several answers that range from economic development advancements to calculated risks taken by our city’s leadership through the years. In terms of real estate, a few things come to mind:

  • The construction of the Hoosier Dome on a speculative basis – The brainchild of Mayor Bill Hudnut, this is an incredibly risky decision that has paid dividends for the city. Hudnut’s trust in the city and its direction helped make this plan become a reality. Of course, we all know that this led to the eventual construction of Lucas Oil Stadium, which has hosted and will continue to host Final Fours and Super Bowls. Additionally, Hudnut played a large role in the development of the Circle Centre Mall in the mid-1990s.
  • The idea, design, and construction of the Bank One (now Chase) Tower – Frank McKinney’s idea in the 1970s became reality in the late 1980s. This building is now the tallest in the city, and its location on the circle makes it the central business hub for Indianapolis.
  • Super Bowl and Beyond – Downtown Indianapolis improved its infrastructure for the Super Bowl in 2012, most notably the Georgia Street promenade. Recently, however, downtown has seen a boom in multifamily developments, even one that will add to the skyline in Flaherty & Collins’s Market Square project.

Obviously, these are only a few events that have positively affected downtown these last four decades. Visionaries like the aforementioned Hudnut, Richard Lugar, and Beurt SerVaas (to name a few) helped shape the city’s CBD into what it is today. Mr. Pierre’s intentions were in the right place, but ultimately, the wealth of leadership and outside-the-box thinkers in Indianapolis best explain why our downtown is in such a strong position.

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