Infrastructure is Key to Successful City Market

The City Market Building

The Indianapolis City Market building is a treasure of downtown.  The original structure was built in 1886.  Unfortunately, the latest incarnation of the City Market has been a financial failure.  It did not manage to turn a profit and the city was spending a significant amount on subsidizing higher-than-expected utility costs.  (It’s confusing to me why the city did not market this property and the business model more effectively – the building is on National Register but doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page)  The silver lining of this failure is that we now have an opportunity to study the building and see what can be done with it.  It is my understanding that the city wants to:

  1. Set up the market as a self-sufficient enterprise; currently the city subsidizes utility costs
  2. Use the structure and property to draw people downtown
  3. Integrate with cultural trail and proposed Market Square Arena replacement

In order to facilitate these changes, the city issued an RFP last year and six proposals were announced in January.  See the IBJ article for a full run-down of these options. I thought many of these presented some exciting new ideas for the downtown space.  It will be interesting to see if the city chooses one of these as a winner, or just continues to operate the market as-is, or tries to combine ideas into a chimera-like blend of proposals.  

A Sign of the Times for City Market

If the city chooses to operate this space as a market or a space for restaurants, they would be wise to read the critiques of the previous business model.  American Dirt’s thorough diagnosis of the situation (part I and part II) laid bare many of the problems and proposed many of the solutions.  I accept his work completely, but I also want to add some of my own thoughts. 

My own opinion about the city market proposals is that the city can choose to do any of these proposals, or none, and it will result in failure.  There are underlying infrastructural issues that the city has refused to address in the past few decades, and these will act as a significant detractor for people using the property.

The Indianapolis City Market must be supported by a change in the priorities of the city, its policies, and its infrastructure.  In particular, the following issues must be addressed:

  1. Make pedestrians the priority of downtown planning
  2. End traffic management policies that have high cost and little benefit
  3. Make design and excellence an integral part of city products
  4. Don’t force tall buildings until market rates support them
  5. Update building codes to make downtown areas a haven for pedestrian streetlife
  6. Stop subsidizing free parking

To see how these issues can be addressed in the planning for the City Market renovation, I have made a site plan showing the different areas of the property and its surrounding infrastructure.  With the rest of this entry, I have detailed specific actions that can help create a new future for the City Market property.

Aerial View of the East Market St Area

Aerial View of the City Market

Main Building
The original city market building has stood up to the test of time well.  The brick materials and arch windows matched nearby buildings, creating a style that set the area apart from the business area or the state capitol area.  It was created as a way to host market activities indoors, not dissimilar from its most current incarnation.  The best the city had to offer.

City Market Building from courthouse tower in 1888 (HABS)

To be honest, this building was not well suited for its purpose.  The building is long and tall.  The interior aspect ratios, high windows, poor lighting, double-height cathedral ceiling, and entry vestibules make it seem very similar to sacred architecture.  This building would be more effective as a church than a market. 

The Cathedral of Independent Commerce

In its current configuration a mezzanine wraps all around the exterior walls and a central area in the middle is used for market vendors.  This arrangement allows for most of the square footage to be used as leasable space, but it does not create a special relationship between the viewer and the space.  In fact, this space forces a feeling of agoraphobia rather than a feeling of comfort and closeness.  Contrast this with Circle Center Mall.  It is a similar space, tall and long, but has overcome its spatial arrangement to create areas that encourage exploration, interaction, and commerce.

I think the upcoming work on the City Market will need to address whether this space should really be used as a market or if there is a higher and better use.  In any case, this space will need to overcome the problems inherent in its configuration in order to be successful.  Honestly, I don’t know of many churches that have been converted into street markets. 

A view of the enclosed market space

Another issue that will need to be addressed in the renovation is the lack of quality workmanship in the city market.  The previous renovations focused more on budget than on excellence.  I got a close look at the building a few years ago when I was responsible for designing structural support for the mezzanine expansion.  The original structure, including the walls and roof, is beautiful.  There is some great handiwork preserved in them.  Unfortunately, the members from 1970 and newer look out of place because there was no attention to detail.  Exposed bolts, exposed welds, carrier angles, and all sorts of steelwork that should have been higher quality or hidden. 

The poor attention to detail creates some aesthetic problems

I have never been happy with the mezzanine.  Looking at all of the newer work, in addition to the doors, and the market vendors spaces, all these items just look cheap.  The sad thing is they aren’t cheap.  They probably were very expensive.  If the city wants to preserve historic properties, then they need to fully invested in the process.  The 1970′s were a different time, but any new work should meet the stricter requirements of Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel (AESS) at a minimum. 

One specific complaint that the city has about the main building is that it is expensive to heat.  I think one reason for this is that the city tried to cut corners when the 2007 renovation was done.  They reused the old HVAC equipment rather than spending the money to upgrade to newer equipment and systems.  As can be seen in the photo below, the work required a new slab so why did they not just put in a radiant heating system at the same time?  Combined with a geo-tied heat pump, the city could be saving many tens of thousands of dollars over the design life.  

An ideal time to install radiant heating system (Feb 2007)

If the City Market is going to be the “best of Indy” then we need to make sure everything in it is saying the right thing about our city.  Design excellence, product excellence, and operational excellence.  Now and forever.

Historically insensitive ducting, exposed speaker wires fastened to the steel with zip-ties

The Wings
If my criticisms of the main space include poor spatial arrangement and poor lighting, then my criticisms of the wing spaces are *dreadful* spatial arrangement and *dreadful* lighting.  The catacombs below the market building probably have more charm than these spaces.

I have no problem mixing modern and historic architecture, and certainly I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid for the Louvre or the Indianapolis Central Library proved that it can be a good idea.  But central to this idea of mixing old and new is that the old and the new must both be able to stand on their own as successful works of architecture.

I can’t believe they built two of these

Here’s a quick rundown on why I hate these wings:

  • Too much unfiltered light
    • Traditional buildings have 25% transparency on the southern face
    • The wings boast 100% transparency;  too hot in summer, too cold in winter
  • No windows on east, west, and north Faces
    • Nothing to offset the blinding effect from the south 
    • Difficult to accommodate lack of natural light, too many fluorescent make-up lights
  • Nothing to look at
    • Is the CCB worthy of that much attention?
    • Why is there a gravel parking lot across the street?
    • People watching is only interesting when there are people to watch

If someone proposed to tear down these wings, I would not object.  If people want them to stay, as some sort of historic preservation effort, then I would not object to that either.  I suppose they do kind of mirror the modern style of the Death Star, er CCB.  But don’t expect them to contribute to a sort of dynamic, shoppers paradise kind of downtown area.  Because these buildings are horrible.

East Plaza
The main concept that I wish to communicate about this area is that pedestrian plazas should not be parking lots.  Please Indianapolis, make pedestrians the priority of downtown planning.  With our new priority in place, we realize that it was a horrible idea to run vehicular traffic through a plaza.  Glad we got that settled.

The conversation pit and skewed parking lanes eliminate pedestrian usage

Now, lets address the other problems with this space.  The conversation pit sucks.  I appreciate that some mid-century modern visionaries tried to make these work in expensive homes.  But to use this in a public space?  I can’t imagine that random strangers looking for a place to sit for a few minutes would choose a space that:

  • Forces them to look at other people
  • Forces other people to look at them
  • Forces people to gather in a small area rather than spreading out, filling in as others join the area
  • Prevents any use of the space other than talking in a group
  • Discourages use by any disabled, elderly, or people with strollers
  • Conversation Pit?  Next to police car parking, an urban highway, and a county court?  

This space can be so much better.  Turn it into a real plaza, one that has a real chance at attracting pedestrians, and drawing their attention away from each other towards a central or distributed feature (think Columbus Circle).  Integrate into the pedestrian plans, make this the eastern pedestrian gateway for the cultural trail towards the Circle. 

West Plaza
How many plazas does an area surrounded by parking lots really need?  Counting the east and west City Market plazas, and adding the 1/2 block CCB plaza, we have lots of wasted space.  This is the equivalent of throwing away tax revenue.  I think some of these spaces need to return to profitable use.  But lets assume the city wants to keep its own building surrounded by empty plazas, parking lots, and urban highways.  How can the west plaza area be rebuilt to take advantage of its location and encourage pedestrian traffic?

Tables, chairs, and benches have been installed to give the impression of streetlife

I think that this area should be rebuilt along market street to provide frontage area for businesses.  The area currently used for tables and chairs can be retained (at a new elevation) as patio seating if desired.  The new building could incorporate the random arch retained from an earlier demolition.  This new building would continue the streetfront shopping experience from the western blocks and provide a space for restaurants, brewery/restaurants, or fast-food eateries.  Putting the seating out back but keeping the space open to Delaware St would preserve the opportunity for people-watching.  I would always recommend street level dining as an option but traffic would need to be calmed for this to be effective.

Why tear down a building if you can’t replace it with something useful?

My final recommendation for the plaza space (and this applies to city market plazas and the CCB plaza) is to remove those ugly brick planters.  They are a disaster as far as placemaking is concerned.  They contribute nothing to the area and take up useful real estate.  They divide rather than integrate.  They look cheap.  And they are ugly. 

North Lot
Hopefully this area will be developed as urban town-homes in the near future.  This will bring in new pedestrian traffic.  Of course, the city and the developer could always ruin this opportunity by enforcing the rules of the parking requirements.  The development codes in US cities must have been developed by some weird urban designers with a fetish for car fenders.  Totally not needed in downtown areas.  (see The High Cost of Free Parking if interested in reading more)

Alabama St and Market St intersection, now a gravel parking lot

To be honest, I don’t know where CBD lines are drawn and what parking requirements are set for this area.  Let me be clear about this, though.  Any requirement greater than zero (0) cars is a mistake. Just remember, neighbors don’t complain about density, they complain about more cars.  No additional cars means no remonstrators at the next hearing.

South Lot
The former Market Square Arena stood here, which came and went before I moved to Indianapolis.  Finding a developer for this plot of land has been difficult, since at least 2001.  The discussions I have seen regarding this project have been worrisome to me.  They seem to focus on how tall to make this building, how many car parking spots they can shoehorn onto the project, and how much tax abatement will be gifted to the project.

The replacement for Market Square Arena presents a great opportunity

If we review the original list of priorities above, we can see that these discussions are heading in the wrong way.  Indianapolis does not need another empty skyscraper, and we don’t need any more parking spots.  We probably don’t need another tax subsidized construction project, but I think that is dependent on the particular project so I’ll hold my tongue for now.  I think creating a project that benefits the entire downtown region would be worth some subsidizing, but not a new enclave that just provides a gated community downtown.

If the city is going to subsidize construction and operation for a few years, then the citizens deserve input into what goes in here.  I recommend a 3-4 story structure built out to the property lines, with no parking whatsoever aside from on-street parking.  All bottom floor streetfront space must be small, leasable spaces.  Upper floors can be mega-stores, restaurants, residential, or whatever the market will support.

While we are on the subject of parking, maybe the city of Indianapolis needs to re-evaluate its theory on parking space availability.  I have no sympathy for the laments of developers who refuse to build unless they have a dedicated parking facility.  You won’t find a single urban parking expert who thinks that downtown Indianapolis is lacking parking spaces.

Delaware, Market, and Alabama Streets
Here we come to the main problem with the City Market.  Vehicular traffic has been given so many advantages compared with pedestrian traffic in downtown Indianapolis that modern citizens don’t even know what we have given up.  The streets in cities used to be filled with people instead of cars.  A few months back Infrastructurist posted a video of San Francisco in 1905 from a Market Street streetcar, it is a perfect model of what cities can become when vehicles are regulated properly.  The video is below:

Many of the proposals for the City Market, and certainly my own thoughts and ideas, suggest that the city address the transportation infrastructure problems surrounding the building site if the overall project is to be successful. The best way to begin the transformation from vehicular oriented to pedestrian oriented is to roll back the traffic management schemes that increase vehicle speed.

Both Delaware and Alabama are one-way streets.  This is unnecessary.  It allows the cars to speed through the area.  This is the most dense neighborhood in the state, so it is beyond my ability to understand why the city wants quicker traffic in this area.  Elimination of the one-way street infrastructure will create psychological friction between the travel directions and slow down traffic.  A small decrease in vehicular speed leads to a large increase in pedestrian safety.  

The one-way streets also limit economic activity from tourists and convenience shopping.  Both elements are key to any City Market proposal.  By allowing people to drive by the structure from any direction they are maximizing visibility and the chance to make a sale.

Another important infrastructural issue is connectivity.  To take advantage of the City Market’s location, the city should create a portal or gateway element between the new cultural trail and the circle.  It doesn’t have to be expensive or voluminous, maybe just LED signs or something visual.

The bike hub proposal is a good idea, in my opinion, and would be a great way to engage a significant portion of citizens who choose a different form of transportation.  If the bike hub proposal doesn’t win this time around, I would love to see it used for the plaza just south of the CCB.  That area is in desperate need of a makeover. 

The final infrastructural issue that needs to be addressed is public transit.  The new CITI plan has been released and would use Washington Street as a light-rail corridor.  This proximity to a heavily traveled corridor would mean many potential customers (without cars or a need to park them).  If the city doesn’t begin taking this into consideration then a real chance at greatness could be lost.

The city should take this opportunity to think about what the City Market will be used for in 20 years, and while downtown should continue growing eastward the City Market will always remain the most significant historic property in the area.  Maybe acting as a gateway or centerpiece of a special district would be a good use, similar to the old Armory in the Pearl District of Portland.

I still believe that any of the proposals for a new use of the City Market building would be a good step forward, as most investments in historic assets tend to pay off in the long run.  The City of Indianapolis will be well served by these ideas.  However, none of these ideas alone will be sufficient to stave off financial ruin after the initial Wow! factor wears off.

The City must take the initiative to look at the real causes of urban malaise in Central Indiana.  The policies governing pedestrian rights, vehicular traffic management, and lack of connectivity are all infrastructural issues that have simple but far and long-reaching consequences.  If we get the policies right, the future of our urban core will be shining brightly once again.

East 10th Street Civic Association


The 10th Street corridor is one of Indianapolis’ best preserved commercial areas from the early 1900′s – 1950′s. This area developed as a commercial district serving the east Indianapolis neighborhoods like Woodruff Place, Cottage Home, and Pogue’s Run Trail. Urban Indy had a good post about the area last year. These different neighborhoods are mostly a part of the collective Near Eastside Community Organization (NESCO).

The 10th Street Civic Association is the main street organization which represents the economic development arm of the neighborhood. The neighborhood has been anointed as a favorite for restoration because of its size, proximity to downtown, and historic assets. They have a long wish-list of projects to tackle in the next few years, and have already started knocking out their punch-list.

A popular building type along 10th is the storefront with residential apartments above

Traveling along 10th street offers an opportunity to experience the urban fabric of Indianapolis as it once existed. The great part about this neighborhood is its unbroken character, there are very few locations where the main street feel is lost to suburban style developments. Admittedly, one of the reasons for this is that it has not seen much investment in the past few decades. But it has great potential as a solid residential and commercial tax base for the city of Indianapolis. It has not (yet) been split by an interstate, bulldozed to prepare way for enormous city-county initiatives, nor abused for heavy industrial use. In truth it is a jewel of a neighborhood.

Another storefront building, this one is in great condition with a bus stop in front

The city of Indianapolis stands to gain a huge amount of tax revenue if this area can begin attracting a broad cross-section of residents. Most importantly, the residents in the area can rebuild their urban neighborhood once investment capital begins flowing back into the corridor.

Single story shops with a front door on the sidewalk

The streets have limited parking options, and there are no destination stores for shopping experiences. Many of the operating businesses focus on the needs of the residents and so do not draw visitors from all over the city. The area has an eclectic mix of residents that befits its urban character, and unfortunately this means that many Indiana natives do not feel comfortable here. I think this says more about Indiana natives than the neighborhood, because Indiana seems to have confused pedestrians with criminals.

More mixed use buildings, these are awaiting renovation

However, the neighborhood appears to be winning some major battles. Apart from the blessing of a Superbowl practice facility, the neighborhood has been steadily acquiring grant money to put its plans into actions. The strategy for the area has been carefully worked out, and there will be a lot of effort on keeping the existing walkable infrastructure in place even when new buildings are being built.

The latest July 15th Presentation (WARNING: must view with IE, not Firefox) by Storrow Kinsella is the culmination of nearly a decade of serious urban planning. The volume of materials generated by this study filled a gymnasium during the final meeting. Every contributing property in the area has been documented by architects and a plan for restoration listed. Utilities, zoning, infrastructure, walkability, transit options, and just about anything you can imagine has been closely studied and converted into giant maps, digital overlays, or reduced to meaningful statistics. Neighborhood preferences for investments in place-making, public structures, and land-use policies have been taken into account. The plan is clearly laid out, the first steps have been taken, and everyone in the neighborhood is excited about the progress so far.

As mentioned above, this area will see the construction of the new Superbowl 2012 practice facility (which will be donated to Arsenal Tech High School afterwards). Several local buildings are getting a facelift or even major structural renovations. Many structures are now sporting scaffolds, the equivalent of cranes in historic neighborhoods. Much of the current work is sponsored by public or non-profit groups in the hopes that private development will soon follow.

E. 10th Street had the first building in Indianapolis with a green roof. As of right now, two commercial buildings have a green roof which may be a higher concentration than anywhere else in the city. The John H. Boner center (roof) and the Moonblock building (roof) both have Live Roof systems and were established as proof that the new technology of green design could mesh easily with traditional historic preservation and economic development.

The John H. Boner Community Center is the headquarters of several civic organizations
A stylized bus stop, large sidewalk presence, and green roof help create a unique area

The MoonBlock building has a green roof and has been fully renovated

Another recent development is the Pogue’s Run Grocer (Indy Food Coop). This locally owned grocer should provide residents with a great choice of quality food. I am quite looking forward to the opening this fall. I was able to volunteer for some of the demolition work, so I got to meet some of the people who will be running it as well as seeing the building they will be using as a storefront. Needless to say, it has a lot of potential and is sited in a great location.

The new Pogue’s Run Grocer location

A community owned, not-for-profit grocery store (i.e. a co-op)

Salvaged wood from our demolition efforts

Homemade food from the Coop volunteers

Other historic assets include the Rivoli Theater and American Legion building. The theater has an interesting history, and I am hoping that the neighborhood can soon support a new use for it.

The historic Rivoli Theater

The signage needs some TLC, but is in good shape overall

The facade is absolutely authentic

The American Legion Building would make a great owner-occupied space. Old mixed use spaces like this are rare, especially one with a great look. IIRC The Ball State study recommended opening up the old storefront windows. It could be a great neighborhood resource.

The American Legion lodge building

The glazed windows on the upper floor are still in good condition, but the aluminum door and bricked over storefront windows should be replaced with more appropriate materials

The old Emerson Theater now regularly hosts independent bands, which seems to attract a young crowd. Before a show there is plenty of activity on the sidewalks.

The Emerson Theater with a young and enthusiastic crowd waiting for the doors to open

I took this photo because I liked the way the urban setting makes my car more hip

North Irvington Gardens Historic District


The North Irvington Gardens Historic District (wikipedia) is the part of the Indianapolis Eastside that is directly north of where I live. It is another great Indianapolis neighborhood, and is full of people. Technically, it is on the national register of historic places, but is not a locally registered historic district. This can sometimes be an important distinction, but it depends on what your own feelings on the matter are.

The only local blogger I could find was this website: Irvington Terrace blog. It isn’t what I would call particularly active, but if you are a resident of the area maybe you can hint to the author you would like to see more, or maybe you know of another website/blog and can post a link in the comments section.

Two important businesses in this area are the Community East hospital branch and the Historic Steer-In restaurant. Only one of the two serves beer, so you can guess which one you are getting photos of…

Built in the 1950′s, the Steer-In used modern design to stand out

The covered drive-in design still looks great

This is about as authentic a place as you can find

Steer-In has a limited but very good bottle beer selection

I am particularly fond of the stuffed pizza

Successful Renovation of Local Schoolhouse


My friend and colleague has just completed his renovation of a local historic schoolhouse into his residence. He and his wife worked very hard for over a year to finish the renovation and they definitely have something to be proud of.

The fully renovated schoolhouse sitting proud on a hillock

The schoolhouse halfway through renovation, geo-exchange loop being installed

The structure as initially purchased in early 2008

This structure was built in 1891 for an independent community outside of Indianapolis. It was originally a one room school but later split into a two room schoolhouse with a double sided fireplace in the middle.

The original building plaque sharing information about the structure

The small school system was later merged with a larger community, so the schoolhouse was repurposed into a fire station. Two garages were built to store the trucks. Eventually the schoolhouse was transferred to a private owner and used for different community events or as a residence, depending on the needs of the neighborhood.

Fire engines get larger as time passes, thus more garage space was needed

The eastern facade showing masonry construction, new windows, and a bathouse

My friend acquired it and acted as contractor, architect, and much of the manual labor. Key upgrades include new aluminum high-insulation windows and a state-of-the-art HVAC system. Exterior work involved new roofing for the main schoolhouse building and a lot of masonry patching. The attached garages are being used for storage at this point, but they will be converted to a game room and a car garage in time.

Vintage furniture, doors with transom windows, and high ceilings

A unique mudroom with space for washer/dryer and a pantry

The separate front doors once led to two individual schoolrooms

The interior renovations included furring out the masonry walls, installing insulation and drywall, and repairing any masonry issues. The original oak floors were sanded and refinished. A new kitchen made from all recycled materials was put in (and the granite for the island came from a prominent building downtown that was recently reclad). The 14′-0″ ceiling height gives a definite loftiness and grandness that you don’t find in many homes.

An apron farmhouse sink, cherry butcher block counters, and reclaimed cabinets were a cost-effective way to make the kitchen fit the context

A handmade island with recycled granite, vintage oven range, and plenty of storage options

The refinished floors of old-growth oak are priceless

New interior walls were installed to section off bedrooms, bathrooms, and a utility room. The bedrooms and bathrooms were furnished with vintage finds from antique shops or family pieces. The overall effect is very pleasant, everything seems to fit and there is a definite authenticity even though the building has been charged with a new life.

A typical interior door with 5 panel construction and a transom overhead

The master bedroom continues the themes presents in the remainder of the house, including tall windows, a high ceiling, hardwood floors, and vintage furniture

But as I mentioned earlier, the key upgrade in this renovation is the new HVAC system. A geo-exchange heat pump works during winter or summer, providing an efficient and inexpensive way to heat this old masonry building. The heating is distributed by a thermal radiant floor system using PEX tubing installed between the original wooden floor joists.

The basement showing wooden post and beam construction supporting the floors

Radiant floor PEX tubing was installed between joists and a reflective backing was installed to focus heat upwards

Supply and return lines feeding the tubing system

The water-to-air heat exchanger provides cooling during the summer and back-up heat during the winter

A full set of ducts were also installed for the cooling system and a back-up electric resistance heater is available for any nights that are especially cold. The heat pump is also connected to a water-to-air exchanger which can use the chilled water to blow cool air through the ducts.

The water-to-water heat exchanger provides heat for the radiant system

The final bonus is that waste heat generated during cooling months is deposited back into the hot water heater. There is very little energy wasted during the generating and distributing process, and the extra insulation in the walls and ceiling keeps most of it inside.

The potable water system uses flexible PEX tubing for distribution, and is sourced from a well next to the house

Future plans, in addition to renovating the garage spaces, include adding a full height library shelving system with rolling ladder, a circular staircase that would extend from basement (once finished) to the reclaimed attic/loft space. This will also open up room to install another bathroom in the main floor where the basement stair currently sits. But that work can wait for another day, as I am sure they are deserving of a little break from renovation work to enjoy the work they have already completed.

UDATE: The owner’s Flickr photostream is here, if you want to see even more

Iconic Structures of Indiana: Bush Stadium

Bush Stadium from the southwest

Bush Stadium is a baseball stadium just Northwest of downtown Indianapolis. This ivy covered brick structure with a heavily styled Art Deco entry has been the home of several teams since construction in 1931, all of whom have had a major role in the sports history of the city. Legend says that Wrigley Field (1913) served as inspiration for the ivy covered walls and roof system of the Indianapolis ballpark.

(NOTE: the property is closed and there is no access to the interior of the stadium)

Bush Stadium entry pavillion

Typical exterior walls of Bush Stadium

The structure has been essentially abandoned since 1996 when the Indianapolis Indians team moved to Victory Field downtown. The Indians move wasn’t such a bad plan, it consolidated the sports activities in the downtown area and created another destination in the central core. Victory Field and the Indianapolis Indians team offer one of the best baseball experiences available in the US, I love the current configuration they have. But as seen in a photos here and one from this link, Bush Stadium was quite sufficient as a baseball park and consolidating downtown was the reason for the move rather than obsolescence.

An aerial image from 1995, the last year that the stadium saw a full season

I wanted to concentrate on this structure for a few reasons:

  • It is currently on HLFI top ten endangered list
  • It has an exposed structural system, which always attracts my attention
  • It has a great location near downtown and alongside the river
  • I want to help raise awareness of the structure

Google Earth 3-d building model of Bush Stadium from the south

Google Earth 3-d building model of Bush Stadium from the southeast

The Indianapolis Star had a good descriptive article on this structure last year, but there was absolutely no call to action.

I hope that Indianapolis will find a reuse for this structure, but I don’t think that the current owners, Indy Parks, actually know what to do with it yet. Historic preservation has never been too high on their list of priorities and they seem to be too comfortable with razing a significant structure just to acquire a clean piece of property. Indy Parks official position is that they are entertaining offers for the property, but that no “viable solution” has been proposed.

The current cost estimate for a rehab is $6.7M (and maybe as low as $5M). If you look at how much Lucas Oil Stadium cost (~$700M), you can see that a rehabbed Bush Stadium will cost significantly less. Bush Stadium holds 12,000 spectators compared to LOS’ 60,000, so you get 1/5 the people for 1/100 the cost. No matter where you draw your money from, that doesn’t seem like a bad value. Most importantly, you now have a stadium that nobody can compete with, an authentic art deco structure.

Ripken Design performed the restoration feasibility study sponsored by the Chambers Family Foundation. It seems that no action has been taken since the initial phase, probably everyone is waiting for the city to make a decision or put funding into place.

When you consider how distinct the authentic facade is, you can easily imagine adaptive reuse consultants having an easy time marketing this property. Even if not for baseball or softball or little league, other sports such as cricket, soccer, or a facility of IUPUI’s choosing is possible. Many sports have devoted fans in need of small, yet upscale, stadiums to host championship games or tournaments.

Aerial image from 1937 showing arrangement as a baseball stadium

Aerial image as of 2005, after outfield was converted into the 16th Street Speedway

The entry pavillion is precast concrete with a metal awning. The cast reliefs probably refer to local issues set as mythological stories, which was a big hit in Art Deco days.

An art deco design relief (click for larger view)

Art deco relief showing original name of Perry Stadium

An Native American with ceremonial headdress and baseball equipment

The exterior windows are steel with divided lites. The awning and ticket counter windows give the impression of an old movie theater experience, which is probably not coincidental since they were also a burgeoning industry at this time. The management and operational facilities are directly above the ticket counter windows.

Awning above ticket counter booths with more design elements

Original gates to control traffic in and out of turnstyles

Turnstyles in main room of entry pavillion

Main room of entry pavillion with offices above the ticket booths (check out column details)

The vendors are no longer open but the signs are still hanging around

Beautiful desolation

Typical stadium ramp up to the seating area

A wild view greets anyone walking up the ramp to see the old playing surface

I don’t know how the upper stadium boxes were accessed, but they appear to be a later addition that has not fared very well. On the other hand, the lighting towers are obviously original and look absolutely fitting in their function and appearance. The roof structure is steel trusses with some type of steel decking covering almost all of the seats. That in itself is a rare thing at any baseball stadium.

Left field of Bush Stadium

Right field of Bush Stadium

One of several enormous light towers

A closer view of the home plate area and the “luxury boxes”

Good view of the windows and ticketing areas

The stadium risers are concrete and look cast in place, supported on brick walls. There is plenty of room for vendors under the risers. The exterior walls have overhead doors at regular intervals, these are access doors for the vendor stands. It looks like one could just back a truck right up into the stall and sell out of the truck. At the very least, it makes loading and unloading a simple affair.

Old vendor stall with roll-up door

The roof is supported by a steel frame structure, likely a moment frame with rigid connections to the truss chords. There is some wood roofing materials falling down, but nothing extensive. The timeline of the stadium shows that public use was still being allowed as late as 2001. I refuse to believe that this structure which has been exposed to weather for 70 years would go from structurally sound to the brink of collapse in 8 years. It seems like a scare tactic to me.

View of the framing from the exterior, note the braced frames in certain bays

The tall steel columns are connected with built-up trusses acting as a rigid frame

Good view of the trusses supporting the roof members

Viewing the structure from the outside, it is clear that this building is still in serviceable condition, and reportedly sees some seasonal upkeep. An outfield wall recently collapsed, but those are typically unbraced at their top so not surprising this would happen while nobody is maintaining the brick. There are no signs of walls being out of plumb, no exposed steel rusted through, nor any evidence of serious degradation by water. Many of the reports reference structural deficiencies, but (at least from the exterior) it appears to be in great shape compared to many of the historic properties I have been in.

My impression is that the decision to leave Bush Stadium was political and the required maintenance of the structure was merely a convenient excuse. Instead of focusing their energy on a solution that would preserve the heritage of the city, the owners (city of Indianapolis) began describing the stadium as “crumbling” or “unsafe” and rapidly abandoned it to raise a new edifice in honor of their own leadership.

Bush stadium is in good shape, even if it does have a few problems needing to be addressed. Only a limited amount of graffiti is present. Many of the window panes are still in good shape, a rare phenomenon for an abandoned urban building. Looking at the above referenced renovation costs, I think it is safe to assume that most of that cost would not be structural issues, but rather M/E/P, accessibility, or “luxury booth” upgrades. Asbestos treatments may be a concern, but there are many structures where management-in-place policies have been very effective.

Looking even further into the future, the stadium is on a direct route from downtown to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Thus, a dedicated people mover could serve both facilities. In my opinion, this is a strong argument in favor of preserving it. It could become another great facility in the portfolio of Indianapolis sports venues. I wouldn’t even be opposed to letting it sit for many more years and cultivating Indy’s first set of urban ruins, to be celebrated in a picturesque way many decades from now.

I just hope that the city of Indianapolis understands that once something is lost, it is lost forever. In the end if we can’t save Bush Stadium then it will be a sad day for us all.

Role of Structural Engineers in Sustainable Construction

As more and more structural engineers have been considering their role in sustainability, there have been more resources available. The best sources of useful information concerning structural engineering and sustainable development are the May and June editions of Structure Magazine. This printed publication is made available freely to all NCSEA and SEI members, but anyone can access the online articles.

Sustainability articles typically address either the entire design process or specific strategies. This provides a convenient way to separate them into categories. First up, we have the articles that address design in general:

Overall Design Strategies
Once again, Structure Magazine leads the way with an article “Sustainable Buildings and the Structural Engineer.” This article delineates all of the issues that sustainable develop should address and then shows how the structural engineer can impact the design. This is a great way to see all of the ideas laid out in one easy to grasp format.

Another article that I found useful is hosted at (publisher of the trade magazine Structural Engineer). This is actually a collection of articles all on the same topic of sustainability.

Reuse of existing structures
One of the great things about sustainable development is that it recognizes the importance of historic preservation, or retaining existing buildings of any type. You may have heard the expression “The greenest building is one that’s already built.” This is the title of an article published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, written by Carl Elefante. It’s a great introduction into how these two topics work together, and a great rallying cry for those who feel that LEED credits don’t properly address the issue.

Building on this call to reuse rather than tear-down and rebuild, another Structure Magazine article “Missed Opportunities in Structural Sustainablility” quantifies exactly how effective it would be to reuse a building. The bottom line: very effective. Essentially, this article shows that tearing down a building in just about any condition is the least green thing that can be done.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has issued a whitepaper laying out exactly why reusing buildings is sustainable, extending the definition to include economics, social benefits, and environmental benefits. Another great read for people looking for ways to change policy and public opinion.

Lastly, the NTHP has put up a fun slideshow of pictures of structures submitted by readers that show promise for renovation or adaptive reuse. So here is Reuse it! (a Flickr group). Feel free to add your own.

Minimizing use of materials
An interesting editorial in Structure Magazine on the topic of “Voided Two-Way Flat Plate Slabs“. This is a particular strategy of sustainable design called dematerialization. Basically, if you consume fewer resources for a building of similar strength then you are doing good for the environment. Of course, you can’t put that sort of strategy into a ratings system (e.g. LEED) because then every engineer will claim they are using less material. The USGBC handled this problem in other trades by creating a baseline case, so the strategy may still work for structural engineering. But few people want to encourage engineers to use less material, so it probably won’t be included for that reason.

Maximizing material effectiveness
Another interesting Structure Magazine article addresses materials that act as structure, insulation, and soundproofing. “The Road to Code Acceptance for Autoclaved Aerated Concrete” details how AAC is being (slowly) approved by code provisions, as well as how to use it in your buildings even today by getting a per-project approval from your local jurisdiction.

And finally, news from the Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB). This group has more of a “damn the torpedoes” mentality because there really are no trade groups that would profit from such a low cost building material. So the only way this type of material will ever get used is from prototypes and bona fide living experiments. I wish them the best of luck!

2013 National Preservation Conference in Indianapolis


Something to look forward to, Indianapolis will host the 2013 National Preservation Conference.

I don’t know if this is comparable to the 2012 superbowl in terms of marketability or economic effects, but I know which one I’ll be more excited about.