INDIANAPOLIS — Sashia Hayes and Tamara Lyles walked out of the nearly deserted city market at lunchtime Monday, frustrated by the dark stalls they found inside.
“We were trying to find something to eat but everything is closed,” Lyles said. “Now we’re upset and we’re going for a walk until we find something else.”
Since the onset of the pandemic nearly two years ago and the abandonment of Downtown and the City-County Building by office workers, the City Market has looked like a ghost town even at high noon when traditionally customers were doing queuing for food and hunting for empty tables in the balcony seating section of the market.
The fruitless search for food continued today but dozens of vacant tables awaited customers who could not be found.
The city of Indianapolis thinks one solution might be to supply the market with a ready clientele right next door.
For the first time, the city has revealed that it is seeking proposals from developers to construct a high-rise apartment building on the site of the East Concourse and East Market Square.
“What we would like to see is housing,” said Scarlett Andrews, director of Metropolitan Development. “What we’d like to see is denser housing development, probably quite high up, and more commercial use down below, maybe more family-friendly stuff.”
The city released a request for proposals that envisioned residential space with affordable, market-priced housing with a focus on three-bedroom apartments on the current East Wing footprint that houses the Indy Bike Center.
“It’s an incredible opportunity. We don’t often publish these types of tenders. It’s kind of a unique opportunity to invest in the city centre,” said Andrews, who expects any developer to maintain the Bike Hub as well as commercial and public spaces on the ground floor and on the square. “We don’t want commercial uses, even restaurant or otherwise, to compete with the market, so we want something that will attract customers.”
More customers walking by the market would please Brenda Barratt, where her Jack’s Barber Shop was one of only three businesses open on Monday.
“We would have integrated business right there. We’ll have a lot of customers there who want to come in to eat, get their hair cut and shop,” Barrett said while trimming a customer’s beard. “I like the idea that they are thinking of something different because I think there are a lot of restaurants here and here. I think it’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.
Plans for the city’s east market also include a tender for the original Cole Motor Car Company on East Washington Street, which housed Marion County Jail II for 25 years and the former arrest processing center just behind on East Market Street.
“The interior of the building is kind of a blank slate because there have been a variety of uses. You can rip it all out inside and start over and I think what we’re looking for there is more reuse,” Andrews said. “You could see housing there. You could see offices. You might see other commercial uses. We’d like to see ground-level activation so you have a reason not to just pass by when you’re driving or walking or biking. Some sort of educational use could come in handy to these buildings, so it’s really just an open book.
Later this spring, the city also plans to issue a request for proposals for the two wings of the City-County Building that will be vacated by the move of criminal and civil courts to the new Community Justice Center in Twin Aire, east. from Fountain Square.
“Downtown living is absolutely critical,” said Andrews, who predicts that developers’ proposals for CCB wings to include residential components, “and what we’re seeing now is that rates of downtown occupancy is over 90% which is incredibly healthy for a downtown. People want to live downtown and what we don’t have is enough housing.
As she was on her way to find a place to have lunch, Sashia Hayes said she didn’t buy into the city’s view of living downtown.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea because who wants to live across from the City-County Building?” she asked. “It’s not at all comfortable for me, especially at night.
“It just feels like more downtown gentrification to me,” Hayes continued. “There is too much traffic. Everything is going to cost too much to come to town. There’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 a place to eat. So now you have apartments but no restaurants.
With the market behind them mostly empty, Hayes and Lyles set off in search of a place to eat in the east side of downtown.
The city expects developers to submit their City Market East Housing and Plaza redevelopment plans by mid-March, with Jail II and APC proposals to follow a month later.
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