Simon unveils plan for see-through HQ

Date: 16 September 2004
15-story limestone and glass tower -- angled, reflective and airy -- would become Downtown's newest high-rise if the city approves plans released Monday by mall giant Simon.

The $55 million building, which would serve as a headquarters for the company, contains design flourishes that Simon officials hope will deflect criticism of its location: a Downtown Indianapolis park known as Capitol Commons.Those features include angles that play off walkways running through the park, a glass facade that would reflect the Statehouse dome and a three-story lobby that would maintain north-south views through the building."It took a long time to come up with a design that respected the site," said John Rulli, Simon's executive vice president. "This building is designed to appear to be a building that has always been there."

The 325,000-square-foot tower would stand 234 feet tall -- about a foot shorter than the Statehouse dome. It would occupy 25,000 square feet of Capitol Commons, roughly 16 percent of the park, and keep in place a well-known granite fountain.

Simon officials announced in May they wanted to build on the four-acre Capitol Commons. Residents, state employees and some lawmakers criticized the decision to hand over parkland to a private company.

State Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, opposed the use of the site and this summer organized a petition drive against the new building. On Monday, he called the decision to move forward shortsighted.

"I have no doubt that Simon will build a first-class building," Hinkle said. "But I still think it could be located elsewhere."

Mayor Bart Peterson, who delivered more than $20 million in incentives for the building -- including a $3.8 million property tax abatement -- said the Simon headquarters was one key component of a larger Downtown renewal.

Other projects under way include a 23-story Conrad Hotel at the corner of Washington and Illinois streets and twin condominium towers proposed at the site of the former Market Square Arena.

"It's been awhile since there's been a landmark building built from the ground up in Indianapolis," Peterson said, "and we now have three."

Earlier this year, the building was the focus of a high-stakes negotiation with City Hall. Officials at first rejected plans to develop the park. After Simon, which employs about 850 people, threatened to take its headquarters to the Far Northside, the city acquiesced.

Currently, Simon's employees are scattered at four different sites. The company manages 248 shopping centers in North America.

Simon spent months behind closed doors working on the design.

Peterson said he believed Simon had minimized the building's impact on Capitol Commons.

The design, submitted to the Department of Metropolitan Development on Monday, must receive approval by city planners -- a process that would take about a week. Planners will determine whether the design fits in with neighboring buildings, such as the Indiana Convention Center and the Westin Hotel.

Buildings are rarely denied approval, but modifications are not uncommon. If the design is approved, Simon officials said, they hope to break ground next month and open the building in 2006.

Efforts were made to make the building fit in, Simon officials said. But Mark Demerly, an architect and president of the American Institute of Architects in Indianapolis, characterized the design as disappointing, given that Simon is known for pioneering retail spaces.

"It seems like a very safe design, very repetitious," he said. "I wish there was a little bit more risk-taking. . . . It's pretty vanilla."

However, Demerly lauded the expansive use of glass on parts of the building -- an element that he said breaks up its bulk.

Peterson said the Simon building is about more than architecture. It's also about economy and image.

"I think it's an extraordinary thing for Indianapolis," he said. "The face of Indianapolis' Downtown is going to change."

600450 Simon unveils plan for see-through HQ
Date: 16 September 2004

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