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Laser Vision, Collaboration Fuels Indy Mixed-Use Gem

By Bruce Rasher

The transition in any civic government often comes with a double-edge sword—as there are a fair share of growing pains and a dose of unexpected upheaval that's all part of any new governmental transition.

The city of Indianapolis and Marion County, Ind. are experiencing a positive boon these days—all thanks to the ushering in of a new mayoral administration.

The headline is this: Positioned between blue-collar neighborhoods that once supplied its workforce and the central business district of a thriving Midwest capital, the former General Motors Indianapolis Stamping Plant property presented a unique, 103-acre urban redevelopment opportunity.

The property holds transformative potential for the community, and a new city administration was determined to take advantage with the help of the neighborhood, the city-county council and local business leaders.

The back story is this: With the leadership and support of Mayor Joe Hogsett and his administration, the city is collaborating with Ambrose Property Group on a project agreement that brings to life an ambitious vision. The effort is driven by a cohesive collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as neighborhood leaders.

RACER Trust is a key component to the ambitious effort ad well, striving to position the property as a smart, sustainable development. The city's determination to seek meaningful and transparent public engagement allowed RACER Trust to communicate a supportable development opportunity clearly and credibly to the market, resulting in a project with the potential to benefit the community for decades to come.

The new administration was determined to give citizens who will be most directly affected by the development an opportunity to be heard and contribute to the vision for reuse. This transparent process and spirit of collaboration built broad public support, and as a result the announcement that the property was under contract to Ambrose Property Group was enthusiastically received in the local market.

Driven by Mayor Hogsett and his administration, RACER Trust is under contract with the buyer who is poised to capitalize on that opportunity and execute a multi-stage, mixed-use project that will transform the property and the community, connecting neighborhoods to the downtown core and creating unprecedented opportunities for the recreational enjoyment of the adjacent White River and its shoreline. The river is viewed as an underutilized resource in the city. Barring the unexpected, development should begin in the first half of 2018.

Background and the Process

The process that led to this point is instructive. RACER Trust took ownership of the property in 2011, after the former GM relinquished it in bankruptcy. It featured a 2.1-million-square-foot manufacturing building and was a brownfield, with both soil and groundwater contamination that RACER Trust was to mitigate and manage. After consulting with various market and reuse experts, RACER Trust determined there was no viable market for the property with the building intact, and initiated demolition in 2013.

RACER Trust's redevelopment mission is to sell to buyers who will invest in new development, job creation and other community benefits. The views and wishes of the community are key factors in RACER Trust's marketing strategy for each property, as was the case in Indianapolis.

In 2014, the city of Indianapolis identified the property as its preferred location for a new, consolidated criminal justice center. RACER Trust came to terms with a local developer who would purchase the property, half of which would contain the justice center. The other half would be anchored by a 10,000-seat concert amphitheater.

Resistance from Neighbors

The business, legal and law enforcement communities were supportive but neighbors were not as enthusiastic, and many voiced their displeasure to their elected representatives. The City-County Council ultimately withheld its support and the contract was terminated.

But there was a shifting of gears with the new mayor installed. Shortly after Mayor Hogsett took office in 2016, his administration, with RACER Trust's full cooperation, initiated a public reset of the conversation around the future reuse of the stamping plant property. Over a six-month period, the city hosted a series of listening sessions with targeted stakeholder groups — including neighbors, local business leaders and civic organizations — to identify and build consensus around the community's priorities for redevelopment.

Financing support was created. The administration worked with the Indianapolis City-County Council to expand the city's tax increment financing district to include the stamping plant property, a strong signal that the city is prepared to make the infrastructure investments necessary to maximize the property's development potential and benefits for the community.

The city in January 2017 delivered its conceptual overview, which called for intensive mixed-use development—to tremendous public acceptance. RACER Trust used this information to issue a call for offers. Four local firms submitted proposals, and by the beginning of May, the property was under contract to Ambrose Property Group, which is planning 2.7 million square feet of mixed-use development and total investment of more than $550 million over 15 years that will provide new connectivity to the central business district; hundreds of multi-family housing units; offices, retail and light industrial uses; a hotel; and public access to the White River.

As Mayor Hogsett put it when RACER Trust and the city jointly announced the deal: "This is a tremendous milestone for the citizens of Indianapolis and Marion County, the Valley Neighborhood and our downtown core. We look forward to collaborating with Ambrose Property Group on a project agreement that makes this bold vision a reality. We have worked closely with the City-County Council, private sector and neighborhood leaders, and RACER Trust to position this property to attract the kind of smart, sustainable development that would be a point of pride for years to come. It's clear that work has paid off and I look forward to beginning conversations with Ambrose Property Group."

The city's determination to seek meaningful and transparent public engagement allowed RACER Trust to communicate a supportable development opportunity clearly and credibly to the market, resulting in a project with the potential to benefit the community for decades to come.

Bruce Rasher is the Redevelopment Manager for RACER Trust, which was created by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to clean up and sell former GM properties in 14 U.S. states, mainly in the upper Midwest and Northeast. Mr. Rasher is responsible for managing the redevelopment, sale and lease of the Trust's properties, in consultation with the Trustee and federal, state and local officials. Part of the redevelopment team's mandate is to seek buyers or end users who will invest in new development and job creation, working closely with the private sector, fellow economic development professionals and elected officials.

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