The recession has brought downtown construction to a crawl in many cities, but not Indianapolis.First of all, the Methodist and Riley hospital projects both involve nonprofit entities which derive most of their money from government-paid health care and pay no property taxes. The J.W. Marriott hotel was only built because nearly $60 million in public funds were dumped into the project to convince billionaire Dean White the project was worthy of undertaking. That didn't stop the IDI's Terry Sweeney from telling Ruthhart that White "had the courage to build the JW Marriott with all cash and push right through a down economy."
Boosted mostly by tax-supported projects, Indy's Downtown is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar construction boom that some say may be among the largest in the nation.
Experts caution that it doesn't necessarily signal an unusually robust local economy, but the spending comes at a good time -- when interest rates and construction costs are low -- and it could position the city for growth once economic vitality returns.
According to a new tally recently released by Indianapolis Downtown Inc., 78 projects worth $3.3 billion are under way Downtown, up from $2.8 billion worth of investment as measured in January.
Much of the construction is supported by public sector investments in facilities such as the new Wishard Memorial Hospital, the Indiana Convention Center expansion and renovations of the Birch Bayh Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse and Minton-Capehart Federal Building backed by federal stimulus dollars.
But Downtown and surrounding areas have seen private investment in expansions at Methodist and Riley hospitals, the construction of the 1,000-room JW Marriott hotel complex and additions to the NCAA headquarters.
"Our pipeline of projects continues to grow, even given the economic times we're facing," said Terry Sweeney, vice president of real estate development for Indianapolis Downtown Inc., a nonprofit supported by the city that aims to manage, market and develop Downtown.
"What's equally as impressive is we're having investment happening throughout the Downtown, and not just in one pocket and not in just one industry, but across the board and across the geographical boundaries of Downtown."
The residential market is reeling from the recession. The construction of new condos for the downtown market has dried up completely. Sales have fallen off so dramatically that some condo projects under construction had to be converted to apartments simply to get them into use. Other finished condo projects sit half empty or more. Selling prices of existing condos downtown have plummeted. The only new projects recently announced are all government-owned and funded projects. That's hardly a $3.3 billion construction boom worthy of the billing it gets in today's Star. It has been more than a decade since a new building has been undertaken entirely by the private sector that has changed the Indianapolis downtown skyline. Leave it to the publicly-funded IDI to create more phony story lines about the success of downtown like they've become renowned for creating.