For most of the past 2 decades, Old City Hall was a jack-of-all trades. It was the site of the Indiana State Museum when I arrived here in 1999. Later, it became the temporary home of the Central Library, while the original one undertook an extensive renovation. After the library moved back to its original location, the City Hall saw several other temporary uses. During the 2012 Super Bowl, it housed a large public art exhibit called “Turf“. It was even home to Yelp’s Christmas Bazaar.
Its most recent incarnation was as “The Hall”. The Department of Metropolitan Development moved its planning department there for 1.5 years while executing the launch of Plan2020. During this period, the building hostedÂ all sorts of public events. The Planning Department moved back into the City-County Building, and Old City Hall was widely believed to be the site of a newÂ 21C Hotel. The deal fell through, leaving Old City Hall in limbo once again.
Jack-of-all-Trades, but Master of None?
One of the persistent criticisms of the hall for reuse purposes is also its most prominent feature: The 4 story atrium with glass dome. This makes for a beautiful public space, and it also takes away valuable floor space from three levels. I would argue that it’s a blessing, because if it were just a normal building with normal floors, who’s to say that it wouldn’t already have been gobbled up by a private corporation? The atrium has kept those who think in terms of Floor Area Ratios at bay. The rest of the building is flexible enough, with high ceilings and large rooms, to host any number of uses.
Next Step, part I: Hotel?
The 21-C hotel deal fell through, but that doesn’t mean that another hotel deal can’t come along. Downtown appears to be adding a decent amount of hotel rooms, though, and it’s possible that Indy is starting to reach a saturation point. And, speaking for myself, but the only time I hang out in hotel lobbies is when I’m actually staying in that hotel. Any hotel that moves in would likely provide a public realm, and it needs to be thoughtfully dealt with.
Next Step, part II: Old City Hall becomes New City Hall?
Another option that has been bandied about is to bring the City Hall back to its original function, housing the Mayor’s office and other top city departments. I’m intrigued by this, although it’s possible that the parking lot to the north of the City Hall might just stay a parking lot if it’s serving in this role. The current City County Building will soon be almost half empty after the Criminal Justice Center is finished. It could be a valuable structure, and probably easier to convert into apartments or condos than City Hall is.
Next Step, part III: A grab-bag?
What does Indy not have that could be considered public domain? We don’t have a proper science museum. We don’t have a large modern art museum, or aquarium. We do have a lot of convention space, and apparently we are looking to add some more. And we definitely don’t have a public space where citizens can mingle with city planners. That’s what we had, and nothing has really replaced it. I’m sure the city lost money on that configuration. Yet I believe the city also gained in ideas and inspiration, as well as in dialogue. It was probably my favorite thing about Indy for 1.5 years.
Old City Hall has a unique place in the city’s civic culture. It’s not the State’s building, it’s not a Federal building. It’s not a company or a conglomeration such as the Atheneum. And it’s not Union Station, which is now a non-public hotel space. It’s all ours. It’s Indy’s most prominent link to the city’s original heyday of the late 1800’s-early 1900’s. Therefore, any next steps would do well to keep the public in mind. Any ideas are welcome in the comments.