Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Market Square Project Dead; Westin Drops Out

Two new developments today reported in the Star tell a story of the Peterson administration's favoritsm in downtown development for political allies. After giving Market Square Partners two extensions in their bid to develop a 31-story condominium tower at the site of the former Market Square Arena, Mayor Peterson has finally accepted the reality that became apparent long ago: the project is dead. A key participant in Market Square Partners was a firm owned by former Deputy Mayor William Shrewsberry. Shrewsberry & Associates Board of Advisors also includes Al Oak of Paul Cripe, Inc., who you may recall is an investor in the controversial 300 East bar in the Julia Carson Government Center, and long-time State Rep. William Crawford (D-Indianapolis).

Curiously, Rep. Crawford does not disclose any relationship with Shrewsberry and Associates on his economic interest statement he files with the state of Indiana, although the website for Shrewsberry and Associates notes his role on its Board of Advisors. The website also lists as clients of the firm a number of Indianapolis and state-related governmental entities, as well as Ivy Tech, where Crawford is employed.

One can't help but wonder if Mayor Peterson would have allowed this developer to string the city along this long had Shrewsberry not had a stake in the proposal. The city will now put the site up for bid again after wasting the past three years.

Meanwhile, the Westin Hotel has dropped out of the running for a new mega-hotel to serve the expanded Indiana Convention Center. The Westin obviously saw the handwriting on the wall. It seems it failed to include a major ballroom the city wants. A leading competitor for the project, a 1,016-room InterContinental Hotel proposed by a Peterson friend and supporter, developer Michael Browning, included a large ballroom in its proposal, giving it a leg up over the Westin and another proposal by Marriott. You may recall that Browning dropped $11,000 into Melina Kennedy's campaign for prosecutor. Kennedy formerly headed economic development efforts for the Peterson administration as a deputy mayor.

Although the existing convention center has a ballroom, under the proposed massive expansion of the facility, it was only recently announced that the ballroom will be eliminated. As I said before, I think the InterContinental Hotel probably had this project in the bag before the bidding began. And if it is chosen, you can probably say goodbye to the PanAm skating rink because the proposed hotel sits atop the current PanAm Plaza site.

It occurred to me that the current main ballroom at the convention center gets a lot of local use for charity events, proms and other special events, in addition to its convention center use. Why is the convention center deliberately taking itself out of this lucrative market? Is it not deliberately giving up convention center revenues which could be used to offset maintenance costs for the expanded convention center and new Lucas Oil Stadium? Is this needed to prop up Indianapolis' hotel industry? Just asking.


Anonymous said...

AI, Note how many of Shrewsberry's clients have ties to Ice Miller and, in particular, Lacy Johnson.

Anonymous said...

Is this city incestuous or what? This really reeks.

indyernie said...

To all of my friends and foes, to all of those who agree with me and those who don’t, to those who are right and those who are wrong, to those on both sides of the Party line and not afraid to voice their opinions, HAPPY THANKSGIVING... MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES.

Friday I start bashing again. Bart boy will be first.

Anonymous said...

Whatever you think of the competing parties, AI, and there's much room to criticize, it's clear an Intercontinental Hotel would be better.

Expanding the existing Westin did not give the city the flexibility it desired. Frankly, it made good sense to pursue someone else other than the Westin's expansion. Intercontinental is the best operator out there, who had interest in our city. Their interest is a tremendous compliment to the city.

The other reasons you cite are interesting. I suspect the City wanted to be able to have another big-name hotel operator rather than relying on an existing one's expansion. Spreading your risk and opportunity among multiple hotels is a good strategy.

(Sidebar: is Mike Browning ever going to retire and go away already?)

As for Market Tower, this deal reeked from the outset. There are lawsuits over hundreds of thousands of dollars in startup and marketing fees unpaid. It was, quite simply, a consultant's dream with a dream cast of consultants consulting consultants.

And as for legisltors' conflict statements, what the hell do you expect? This is a legislature that ripped lobbyist rule enforcement from the SOS when Joe Hogsett started to get frisky over a decade ago. Now they rule themselves.

I checked the COI statements of several legislators this afternoon. They're online at Many filled theirs out by hand on the deadline and submitted them to the House clerk. It didn't take long because it's scarily brief. The categories are three for gifts from lobbyists. If you send a legislator around the world, it goes in the "over $250" column, the highest-ranking gift column. Period. $251 to one million is all the same category.

Lobbyists themselves have to file statements which are only slightly more detailed.

Outgoing Speaker Bosma did not list his gifts. He claimed that, as a member of a law firm, any clients he had which might do business with the state are a matter of client-attorney priveledge. I'm deadly serious here.

With arrogance like that, and it's bipartisan arogance, we can expect more government like that which we have.

Gary R. Welsh said...

anon 6:38, from a design point, I will grant you that the InterContinental design is the most attractive and will add the most to the city's skyline. I am bothered at its location on the PanAm Plaza. We saw the Capital Commons taken over by the Simons, and now we're going to see this public space taken as well if the hotel is built there. I think the ice skating rink is a nice touch and will be sorely missed. The process is my biggest concern. It is not clear to me that the parties had a fair and equal opportunity to submit the most responsive proposal. As I mentioned, the whole issue of the ballroom didn't seem to surface, at least publicly, until the bids were already completed. On the COI's, I agree with your characterization of them. As to Bosma, like it or not, he discloses more than the vast majority of the legislators, although that may not be saying a whole lot.

Anonymous said...

Indy Sports Corp (the owner of Pan Am Plaza) has said they are closing the Ice Rink and moving this May, with or without the hotel.

The first rule of real estate is best use. The best use of one of the most prime development pieces of property is not an ice rink, but a world-class hotel.

Of course the Intercontential should be the one selected. I hope it will be. It's bold, it changes the skyline, and it brings another top-tier hotel operator to the city.

Anonymous said...

2:54 said it best.

In 1987, when the Pan Am Games brought this city world attention, the ice rink was cool. Now, it's a poorly-used disrepair...and expensive to maintain. Newer designs of ice rinks are much better. Who knows? If it's Intercontinental, maybe someone can convince them that a newer-design ice rink is a good idea? However, as 2:54 pointed out, this is prime real estate now. Especially with the new stadium effectively moving the epicenter of downtown further southwest. That's going to bring with it some challenges, especially for those who promote downtown.

There's a lot of effectively cheap real estate south of the new stadium. If the city wants the mall and northern downtown to prosper, there's only so much might make sense to look for a northern downtown anchor project, too. It doesn't have to be huge...just unique.

The process is as open as it can be. Competitive forces are at play, and in this arena, if it's too public too soon, it'll chase away some players.

I wasn't concerned about the Simon HQ downtown and I'm still not. The real reason for that location decision was taxes. Rumor has it Simon looked all over town...and the township tax rate,s paritcularly in popular areas, has risen to the degree downtwon was more attractive.

The park space issue baffles me. I appreciate the point, but I think it's overblown. It was a small park and it looked corporate to begin with...not a great design.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I enjoy hearing the spin from the paid PR consultants when I comment on these projects. I just wish they wouldn't hide in anononymity.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if Browning or Intercontentital want to throw some money my way, great. But, I'm just calling 'em as I see 'em.

The proposal that is the boldest, will do the most for the city and will be a landmark will always have my "vote."

Anonymous said...

What reeks is that another hotel will be propped up with taxpayer money. The whole tourist industry / downtown is propped up with taxpayer money. Though, to give them some credit, it has been somewhat succesful. Many cities try to prop up their downtowns similarly and they still end up with hellholes.

The Market Square Arena project was a known joke from the beginning. Indianapolis is not ready for an over-priced residential tower project. And, of course, Shrewsbury's involvement was the only reason that this proposal had legs this long. It will be interesting to see who the next group will include (I am betting on O'Connor this time)

Anonymous said...

O'Connor isn't in the real estate business. Not even close. Besides, he doesn't have what passes for "gold" in the eyes of the Peterson and Bayh camps: a law degree. As if that gets you through any difficulty. Business-wise, it's so naive.

Shrewsberry got consulting fees throughout. Don't cry for him.

Anonymous said...

Shrewsberry is a mbe front company.