The Worst Parking Lot in Indy

Hey Indianapolis!  I’ve been away from the keyboard for a while, but I’ve been busy studying cities at Ball State’s Indianapolis Center.  The one thing I noticed in my studies was how much parking lots we have in our cities, so I’m going to bring you a few posts that focus on them and what we can do to minimize their impact.  Let’s start off with a competition of sorts – What is Indianapolis’ worst parking lot? 

Recently, Indianapolis finally gave up big plans to redevelop the old Market Square Arena site.  This was my hands down favorite for worst parking lot (WPL).  For a decade, citizens endured an enormous gravel parking lot adjacent to the densest urban neighborhood in the state.  In its place, we now have a paved lot (hooray?).

The previous title holder for "WORST PARKING LOT IN THE CITY"


So, we bid farewell to our old gravel lot, which clearly held the top spot as worst parking lot in the city.  Not only for being gravel, but for occupying a valuable space in the city and destroying the connection of downtown to the near eastside.

We have a few contenders that I want to nominate for consideration (and please feel free to add your own in the comments).

WPL Candidate #1:  Under the freeway
If you have ever driven under I-65 along the north side of downtown, you have probably noticed that this space is used as a parking lot.  It’s a subtle reminder that freeways kill urban land use.  It’s dark, depressing, and without value.

If you like raised freeways, you'll like this parking lot too


WPL Candidate #2:  The Zoo Lot
The environmental costs of building a society dependent on automobiles are often hidden, but the Indy Zoo shows how our priorities affect the world around us.  We have marginalized nature, even in the places where we seek to celebrate it.  The Zoo fights hard to create special places for the animals, but its difficult when they need so much space for visitors to park.

A great view, but a bad parking lot


WPL Candidate #3:  The Market Square Arena
The previous title holder isn’t giving up that easy.  It wants you to know it is still here, and still taking up valuable space in downtown Indy. Is this really what we want fronting our Cultural Trail?

The new paved and landscaped parking lot


WPL Candidate #4:  The Northwest Side (aggregate lot)
Sometimes it seems like this part of the city is nothing but parking lots.  We’ll just lump them all together, because the effect of that much paved surface is 1 big dead spot.  The sad part is that this is adjacent to the only rail transit we have in the city (people mover), and also within walking distance of the canal, the central mall, downtown, and the cultural trail.

Is it parking lots like these that are truly responsible for urban design crimes like DeRimini?

Lots of Parking on Indy's NW side (image credit Curtis Ailes)


WPL Candidate #5:  IUPUI Campus (aggregate lot)
IUPUI has a land use other than parking lots somewhere (because the parking lots are always full), but I think the proportion of parking lot to academic space makes for a very non-urban place.  It is also lacking that “integrated campus” feel, because the only thing continuous throughout is the paving.  This place has a history of being a commuter campus, but what’s so wrong with buses, bikes, and walking as a school transportation policy?

Surface and garage lots leave less room for campus

Comments 32

  • Oh, Graeme, you’re being too kind to IUPUI with that satellite shot — you’re not showing their whole east end parking swath!

    I vote for the NW quadrant.

    • IUPUI sure does love their parking lots!
      I will vote for NW quad as well, that part near One America tower is possibly to most disgusting urban land use that I know of. It’s a glaring example of why skyscrapers shouldn’t be built until a city learns how to build mass transit systems.

  • Matt Hale from naplab has mentioned that the lot on the north end of the State House is bad…here’s the aerial.
    I’m sure it’s not going anywhere, though.

    I also vote for NW Quadrant as the worst, as well as the one with the most potential to be something better…

  • I will add another vote for the surface lots around the government center. That has to be the absolute worst part of DT to be sucked up by parking lots. Im sure somewhere, our conservative leadership has made a vow that as the state capitol, it is our responsibility to provide cheap parking for people travelling in from out of town to visit the state house or gov center. It would be nice on a loca/regional level to provide rapid transit to this location since it is one of the most dense employment centers. A case could be made that rapid bus or rail transit could open up at least SOME of the parking lots for dense urban-style development. There would certainley be a market for retail and housing. Retail for the amount of weekday foot traffic and residential for the amount of IUPUI enrolled as well as employment. Just makes sense. Again though, need good transit to cut down on the parking requirements. Until we hit 15 minute headways (or less) people will demand parking because auto is the most time efficient way to travel in our city.

  • It has to be the lots on the NW quadrant near One America. You can practically walk from 10th street down to the statehouse without leaving a lot. This lack of development also exposes the ugly wall of parking garages along Illionois.

    • I’d have to vote for the NW quadrant also. I know that IUPUI wants to create a more urban campus in their most recent campus master plan. The NW doesn’t have any glimpse of broad change. I think that area has some true promise and could very well be a vibrant area of downtown Indianapolis, should we start to plan and develop the area more responsibly.

  • Oh wow, I could have some fun with this.

  • IUPUI campus is close second, because you have to consider its potential (campus services 30K+ college students) and their financial capabilities (university is maybe not a cash cow like Apple or Google, but it still has significant resources).
    And being (or trying to be) a progressive university, they should know better.

  • They make a killing on parking every year. It probably helps debt service on previous parking structures…

  • Yes. I don’t know the facts, but they might even have some “dedicated fee bond” which might be using parking fees as the revenue source of repayment. So, their hands might be somewhat tied.

  • NW QUAD for sure. How depressing…those towers smiling down upon the asphalt, which meanders thru Indiana Avenue, the Canal (Government Center) and IUPUI like cancer.

  • I have to vote for the Zoo. I made the horrible mistake of parking in their one time for the fireworks downtown. I thought the walk over the river would be nice, and it was.


    Getting 1,000 cars out of that single exit where 6 or seven lines of cars converge down to 2 is an absolute nightmare! It took almost forever to get out.

  • Those surface lots in the NW quadrant are hideous, but fortunately, that area has tremendous potential.

    Personally, I would love to see more mid-rise housing development in that area–it sits in a very strategic position between the downtown core, IUPUI, and the canal.

  • We ate at the Eagle’s Nest on Saturday night and there are some spectacular views to the west, south, and downtown. We all noted that the NW quadrant parking lots were a real eyesore. Seeing them from that perspective makes me vote for them.

  • While the leaders or leadership here in indy appear to finally be on their p,s and q,s when it comes to downtown development i still fill like we let some really big time projects slip by that would have filled in some of those ugly parking lots in time for the superbowl crowd checking out our city for the first time or hadn’t been back in a bit , A beautiful midrize to highrize 18 to 45 stories would have gone great at the market square site ,a mostly straight type tower with a mini park or plaza almost like the simon building plaza , but with a tall square type scuture with faces on it reggy miller , bob night, dave letterman , some indy 500 photoes and downtown photoes etc. that would spew out water and light up in neon changing colors at night , new york city, chicago, and a few other cities big and small have these in their downtowns, would had been great for dt. indy and the first time crowds checking out our city. the name could have said market place cosmopolitan, the square at market place or center, etc. instead a beautiful lot. The stuz tower another faild one for the northern part of dt. penn center, westmerille tower ralston square for ralston who founded indy and a few others were killed or did not materialize in time for indy. to show case its’ self to the world during the big time super bowl maybe next time . buildings and not lots.

  • I got thinking about this last night and I considered changing my stance on this. We all agree that the lots in the NW quad are a killer. However, I was with Graeme when he took the picture of the freeway underpass. That was along Delaware Street and it really shows how the neighborhood was sliced in two when the freeway came through. There is residential and tree lined streets north of the freeway and south of it, a lot of seemingly dead commercial space. I wonder if that freeway had never come through, what the neighborhood would look like today. More residential oriented? Would the commercial space even exist? Same situation exists on Alabama as the freeway passes over

    • The freeway actually helped the Old Northside to revitalize and prevent commercial encroachment, I think, by cutting it off from the more-commercial part of Downtown to its south. The ONS revitalization dates to the mid-70’s, just after the freeway was completed. On the other hand, it also led to “urban renewal” projects such as the Day Nursery on East, the Red Cross at 10th & Fort Wayne, and everyone’s favorite suburban condos, Renaissance Place.
      South of the interstate, the area roughly between North and 11th has paid a heavy price…including the infamous “Northwest Parking Lots”. But that area was (obsolete) warehouse and manufacturing, not residential, and ripe for some kind of redevelopment anyway.

  • I nearly ‘tear up’ everytime i go past these places where you can clearly see a once thriving neighborhood now disected from downtown. Once vibrant residential streets now brought to a halt by guardrail or fence for the masive interstate ROW. People wonder why these neighborhoods lost so much investment……look at what you drive on to get downtown for the answer. We took great value in urban density and proximity and relocated it with government money to the burbs. Now the house at the end of the dead end street has the selling point of the interstate in the back yard.

    I would argue that these intersates are probably the most devestating product for downtown, but as for the parking situation, it is almost a good idea to store parking under the interstate. It is like density of bad ideas all in one area. These could have ben lots out where a building now stands or a park is located. Instead, this parking is in a very undesireable space.

    • Definitely agree re parking under the interstate viaduct. Highest and best use of that car-space. The only thing better would have been a taller interstate with a two or three-level parking structure under it.

  • Personally i have been considering running for Mayor of Indianapolis when i am older. Probably 4-8 years depending on how badly the city needs a major transformation. I agree when i look at Indy every day on google maps i am amazed at how many open flat parking lots there are. I personally would like to get rid of some of those parking lots on the NW downtown area and replace them with 1-2 massive parking Garages. There i just freed up space to build new skyscrapers in Indianapolis. I love Indy but come on the tallest building in our city was built in 1990. I believe its time to transform Indianapolis into a World Class City and raise the skyline to over 1,000 feet. We already have the major conventions and Indy 500 so it wouldn’t be hard to get people interested just we need to provide a good reason with incentives to do it here. Tax Credits are a good option however they should be given in a balanced way.

  • Good job evan your right on point ive said this long time ago, for the midwest’s second largest city were long overdue for a super tower a 65, 73 or even 80 stories would do , other big cities are putting them up, Louisville recently put a hold on a 63 story tower a city smaller than indy, but thinking big, im sure a new super tall with nice priced rental space would quickly draw tenants from out of state, illenoise, ohio,etc and yes the burbs and could have prevented the one that just left for them in need of more space.

  • MR. curt like all the other big cities that are putting them up , any tenant or major corporation in need of major space , could also attract tenants wanting to come here, fleeing high taxed states to our lower tax state and its decent econamy , think of all the big shots in town for the super bowl and other events , likeing the city and wanting to move here along with their corperations employees etc. and not haveing major space. Think of apartment developers/owners they dont just build one or two units, they build plenty of them to attract would be tenants, Other cities build to suit or keep plenty space avalible for would be wanna be downtown live downtown tenants nyc,chicago,denver,la,houston,jax,columbus,oh,etc why; they know whats happening, notice the cities with all the cool buildings seem to attract all the firms, big shots, and cool crowds to them, why; they also fill this is where the action is and the city leaders know it. Note; a super tall could also double as both office and hotel space some developers are doing this.

    • I think most (if not all) of Urban Indy would be happy if the demand for tall buildings existed here in downtown Indianapolis, but we do have major concerns about them. The relevant issue discussed in this post is how to provide parking for them. Since we don’t have a mass transit system and most professionals commute from far away, tall buildings must have a nearby field of parking (similar to the NW quad). So, if you want to see support for Tall Buildings in Indy, the first step is getting a mass transit system going, one that could support at least 10% of commuters.

      That being said, there are other concerns as well.
      1. Lowering taxes doesn’t increase demand for office space, it only lowers taxes. This is not a competitive advantage, since neighboring jurisdictions will do the same thing and we will be in a race to the bottom. Tax rates should be set so that the real cost of providing infrastructure and social services is paid for. Anything else is a timebomb for future generations.
      2. A significant proportion of tower space in Indy is vacant. Adding more space now will only depress prices further, and make ownership/maintenance even more unprofitable.
      3. Building upwards is expensive. There is a substantial price premium for tall buildings, both in terms of structure and vertical transportation taking up floor space. It only makes economic sense when all available development plots are used and land costs are higher than building costs. We aren’t even close to that point in this city.

      The only reason that we have tall buildings currently is because they were either federally subsidized during the “urban renewal” phase of history or they were independently financed by a bank group that wanted to show strength rather than make a profit (which led to many of them being bought out and merged with other banks far away). Indianapolis is not a tall-building market yet, we still have a long way to go.

      By my calculations typical downtown land is not more than $35 per square foot, and tower space costs $200+ per square foot (e.g. $300/SF for Burj Dubai, $1150/SF for Freedom Tower). Asking the city to subsidize such a project, either through lowered taxes or through direct assistance would a poor use of the citizens’ money. Basically, the dream for tall buildings is a good one, but it will have to wait. In the meantime we have so many other ways to make our city better, so I will focus on those instead.

  • I vote for the Zoo lot. It’s really sad that a place that is supposed to use its space to cater to animals and the people there to see them has to dedicate half of its land to parked cars. Of course, one would expect that in a far-flung suburban setting as so many zoos are located. But downtown, or across the river therefrom should be different.

    • The only good news I can see out of the Zoo parking lot is that if the zoo were to ever consider expanding, it has the space to do so. If they were to build either a parking garage or have some underground parking like at White River State Park, they should have some more land to expand. It’s a potential opportunity some day.

  • It would be interesting to note the demographics and home addresses for people visiting the zoo. I doubt it’s dominated by people who live downtown. And since trips to the zoo very often means trip with kids this means we have families coming in from other parts of town with kids. I really doubt they would want to drive to some other downtown lot and board a bus or shuttle to get to the zoo.

  • Also i would like to mention that my facebook post have been on WishTV facebook page. Also it doesn’t have to all be office space we could add shopping to the downtown area like i said theres a BUNCH of open parking lots and so much to do with it. Mix it up would be a good option.

  • I think it would be appropriate to dig up Renaissance Place and smack it right in the middle of Indy’s worst parking lot! Maybe this would have a perception changing affect on people’s mindset?

  • Another point with why the zoo’s lot is so bad is its prominence along West Washington Street, eating up and eliminating such a long stretch of frontage. It’s really a ugly gateway to downtown. I was contrasting in my mind with the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park somewhat equivalently situated on the outskirts of downtown. I’m pretty sure most people drive to get the S.D. Zoo also, but I really have little to no memory of the parking lot, because it isn’t dominant feature along the main artery going into downtown.

  • What is the land lease situation like these days downtown? Years ago I was acquainted with a then-president of Building Owners and Managers Association of Indianapolis.

    He talked of their being a whole lot of 99 yr land leases hindering the ability of anyone to build on them — because lenders were not keen on loaning money when the developer didn’t own the property on which a structure was built.

    I often wonder how severely that has prevented vacant lots from turning into new construction. By now, it may be that those leases are or are about to expire?

  • In response to a few of the comments on more tall buildings and filling empty lots with them , i will agree to a certin degree about the office space, But a few more highrize residential towers in the 10 to 25 story range surly yes , about 5 to 7 would do with uniqe design would look to florida or La developers for these just as miami has also sought overseas developers for some of its coolest projects , I would compliment these with hotel style diners/resturants,first floor retail/gift shops,possible movie theaters and small bowling allys that would cater to the wanna be and live downtown crowd , A cool looking target store brick and large glass type would also do , along with a Best buy as well, 1or 2 new vegas style hotels 21 to 25 stories complete with vegas style buffets would do . the casinos would be for hotel guest only keeping crime out , And yes we do have the boats and a few land base casinos around the state. I fill these would bring more visitors and residents to dt. indy , great projects, and good fill in of empty lots. Im sure the mayor would study these proposals if told or shown to him and or a new elected mayor wanting ideals for more development downtown.

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