Lumina Foundation building a new home in Bottleworks District / With some thoughts on the rationale

This is an expanded version of the feature included with the March 2024 print edition or Urban Times

By John Strauss / Editorial director, Lumina Foundation

A new headquarters for one of the city’s leading nonprofit organizations highlights the vibrant Bottleworks district and a major corporate partner’s commitment to Indianapolis. 

Lumina Foundation – a national, independent private funder of projects to make learning beyond high school available to all – will occupy the sixth floor of the new Bottleworks building at the northeast corner of Massachusetts and College avenues.

“Our work is national in scope, but our home is here, and we’re very glad to be part of the new skyline on Mass Ave,” said Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president and CEO. 

Lumina, with an endowment of $1.4 billion, supports higher learning – including college degrees, certificates, and certifications – to meet the nation’s rapidly growing need for talent. The foundation also has an office in Washington, D.C., and includes staff working remotely from New York City, Philadelphia, Denver and other locations. 

Tim Robinson, Lumina’s vice president, general counsel, and chief of staff, directed the new office project. He said the foundation could have found a home in the suburbs or in a Downtown high-rise but was intrigued by the history of the Mass Ave location.

“We have a commitment here, not just because many of our employees are here,” Robinson said, “but because of the Midwest sensibilities that inform the work we do, even though it’s national in scope.”

Bottleworks has quickly emerged as a center of business, entertainment, art, and culture, he said. 

“The energy and optimism of this space matches Lumina’s own perspective on the future of our country – and our hopes for families across America as more people get the education they need for good jobs.”

The wood-paneled vibe of the foundation’s current office at 30 S. Meridian St. resembles a think tank, which Lumina itself resembled in its early years. Lumina is a conversion foundation formed from the sale of USA group to Sallie Mae in 2000. The proceeds of that sale, $770 million, created the endowment, and since then Lumina has made grants totaling more than $1 billion. The foundation has 64 employees, with about 45 based in Indianapolis. 

“We’ve evolved to be more of a collaborative, partnership-based organization that brings a lot of people together, not just our staff members,” Robinson said. As part of its Indy commitment, Lumina supports local stakeholders, including WFYI, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, and others. It has joined the Mass Ave Merchants Association to be part of that community.

“We’re not just here to have our office,” Robinson said. “We’re here to be partners.”

Extra: Lumina’s views: Partners building a new home

Responses from Tim Robinson, Lumina’s vice president, general counsel and chief of staff.

Who have you worked with on the new office? “Shiel Sexton is overseeing the construction of the building. Hendricks Commercial Properties – which is developing Bottleworks, did the Ironworks project and is buying Circle Centre – has been a great partner. DKGR (architects) helped with design and the architectural structure of the space. And we’ve worked with Well Done Marketing to help us with how Lumina brands itself internally. This project includes a state-of-the-art video studio, and we’ve had the help of the Hammer Companies and ForceTech in the design of that space.”

How is this office different from what you had before? “We wanted to ensure that everyone had shared rights to the outstanding views from the building, as well as the natural light. So, we moved the offices off the windows, and all the offices except for the CEOs are the same size. We’ve created collaborative zones throughout the space, so we’ll have focus areas for people to put their heads down and concentrate when they need to. And then there are much larger collaborative spaces where people can get out, work with their colleagues, and not be stuck on Zoom calls all day. It was also important to us to have places where people could be outside and get a breath of fresh air. So, we have large balconies overlooking College and Massachusetts avenues.” 

Art is a consideration as well, right? “Honoring our civic commitment means bringing in local artists to help us think about the space. One of the design features includes markers near the windows that show the history all around us. In one direction, for example, you’ll see Massachusetts Avenue. We wanted to show our staff and guests why this location is so important.”

Many cities are concerned about getting Downtown workers back in their offices. How do you think about that? “We have a distributive work model with people throughout the country, including some who work from their homes. But we’ve always believed that having a core location is important to our identity and an expression of our commitment to the community where we were founded. And so, when we made the decision during COVID to make this investment and stay Downtown, it was with an awareness that the work environment was changing, but that our commitment to Downtown and having an office did not change.” 

How do you gauge the Indianapolis recovery? “I rode my bike around right after the riots following George Floyd’s murder. And I was heartbroken by all the broken glass and boarded-up buildings. I wasn’t sure Indianapolis could recover from that. But, while there is still plenty to do, Indianapolis has probably done much better than other cities our size. That’s because of the commitment of partners – those corporate and nonprofit business leaders all coming together saying, ‘We’re not going to let Indianapolis fail.’”

And Bottleworks fits into that? “Right. Bottleworks has extended the core of downtown from the Circle, all the way up this northeast corridor. There are projects happening in the southwest corridor and the southeast corridor – and of course, the Indiana Avenue renewal. It’s exciting. We have a lot of work to do in this city, but I live Downtown, and you can see the progress here.”

RENDERING ABOVE: Lumina Foundation’s new home in the newest Bottleworks Development building at the corner of Mass and College avenues.