Plans to abandon a residential element at Bottleworks continues to displease IHPC

ARTWORK ABOVE: The rendering at top shows the original plan for residential use on the upper floors of one of the five buildings being debated by IHPC. The rendering below shows the revised building with office use planned for the upper floors. Art by Ratio Architects

For the past four years, the proposals advanced by the Wisconsin firm of Hendricks Commercial Development to redevelop the 11-acre site now known as the Bottleworks District has seen smooth sailing through the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

But the first evidence of rough seas emerged in the Nov, 3 hearing, when Bottleworks officials brought forth a plan to convert proposed residential space along College Avenue into office space instead.

Those seas will now remain choppy at least until the commission’s Jan. 5 hearing, as the issues raised in November continued at the IHPC’s Dec. 1 hearing – when it became clear the seas haven’t calmed all that much.

The changes involve the upper stories of five buildings to be constructed between the gateway corner of Mass and College avenues north along College to 9th Street, with the final building in the series being one which faces 9th Street next to the Bottleworks building which houses the Living Room Theatre.

The original plan approved in 2017 called for commercial space on the street level, but a total of 60 residential units on the upper levels. As reported in the December edition of Urban Times, Bottleworks District spokesmen testified that they have seen more interest from office users than originally anticipated – and that they have determined that economic studies indicated that the plan was not feasible without adding more units, resulting in making more changes to the building design, including adding more floors.

The structure at the south gateway corner five stories in height, two are four stories and the other two three stories.

In the month between the two latest hearings, the Bottleworks architects made some exterior changes to the building, most prominently restoring a few of the balconies which were lost when the intended use switched from residential to office. Commissioners remain unhappy with the new plan.

Commissioner James T. Kienle said the changes do improve the feeling of massiveness that the November plan presented. But, he added, “It doesn’t replace in any way the affect you got from the balconies and the residential use.” He said switching to office space means that after 5 p.m. the space will go dark – not good for the neighborhood feel the commissioners were expecting when they approved the project in 2017.

Commissioner Annie Lear stressed that the project –to date –has been amazing, but that she was disappointed that the petitioners didn’t respond more fully to what the commissioners said in November.

The Bottleworks spokesmen said they have, indeed, considered the criticism, but said they are walking a thin line between keeping the project at top quality while also making it affordable for potential tenants. It was said that the only way to make the residential component possible would be “to make it exclusive, a super-high rent product,” which the company did not want.

The Dec. 1 hearing concluded with the IHPC breaking the proposal into two parts – the first being the five-story building at the corner of Mass and College avenues. Because the vast majority of that building’s exterior remains unchanged between the two plans, the IHPC granted approval.

But the commissioners challenged the petitioner to return to the Jan. 5 hearing with a better plan.

Commissioner Susan Williams took issue with the Bottleworks position that the residential element was not economically feasible, saying that the economics should be considered in light of the entire project – not building by building.

She said that, because of the zoning applied to the site, the commission does not actually have any say about whether the usage is residential or commercial. “But we do have the right to tell you what you build was what was approved originally.
Added Commissioner Joann Green, “What we have is a platform for compromise.”