Roadtrip: Indianapolis

January 18, 2008 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Due in part to an aggressive downtown revitalization campaign, Indianapolis has successfully shed its Rust Belt city image.


Indianapolis Population 2006: 785,597 (City); 1,666,032 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1821)

Jacksonville Pop. 2006: 790,689 (City); 1,277,997 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City popudation 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Indianapolis (427,173)

Consolidated with County:

Indianapolis: 1970

Jacksonville: 1968


Brief History:

Indianapolis was founded in 1820, as the site for Indiana's new state capital.  The railroad was extended to the city in 1847 and soon Indianapolis became the home of the first Union Station in the country.  As the Midwest boomed during the early 20th century, Indianapolis grew into an auto manufacturing center.  By the 1970s and 1980s, the city suffered from urban decay and white flight.  During the 1990s, leaders focused on restoring the city's image by concentrating on diversifying the economy and downtown revitalization.  Today, the Indianapolis metropolitan area is among the fastest growing in the Midwest.


Broad Ripple Village

Located six miles north of downtown, Broad Ripple Village is one of six designated cultural districts in Indianapolis.  Similar to South Jacksonville, this area was originally an independent city that was annexed by Indianapolis in 1922.  Like San Marco Square, Broad Ripple contains many independent restaurants, art galleries, and bars.


Old Northside

The five mile stretch between Broad Ripple Village and Downtown, along Meridian Street, is dominated by a continuous chain of pedestrian friendly neighborhoods reminiscent of Jacksonville's Riverside/Avondale Historic District.  Using our Main Street corridor for comparison's sake, this distance would stretch from the Jacksonville Landing north to the Trout River and Jacksonville Zoo.  Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a strong connection between Downtown Indianapolis and the Old Northside, due to surface parking lots and Interstate 65.



Massachusetts Avenue Arts District

Massachusetts Avenue was designed in 1821 as one of Indianapolis' original four diagonal streets.  During the 1990s, gentrification converted the street into one of the city's more fashionable addresses.  Today, it offers a collection of four theaters, specialty boutiques, infill residences, and eateries.


Canal Walk

Canal Walk is a linear public space designed around the old Indiana Central Canal.  The path features a mix of old and new architecture, attractions, monuments, and a waterside promenade for jogging, inline skating, biking, and boating.  Amenities along canal walk include Pedal boat rentals, bike rentals, murals, a waterside cafe, and waterfalls. 

Attractions constructed along Canal Walk include the USS Indianapolis Memorial, Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, Historic Landmarks Foundation, Indiana Government Center, Military Park, Eiteljorg Museum, Indiana State Museum/IMAX and NCAA Hall of Champions.


Indianapolis Central Library

The new Indianapolis Central Library open in December 2007, after two years of delay and coming in $50 million over budget.  The $103 million project included the restoration of the 1917 Paul Cret building and the creation of a new six story addition.  A glass atrium connects the two structures.



Wholesale District - Downtown Core

The crown jewel of urban Indianapolis is the Wholesale District, which is located on the southern fringe of Downtown.  It contains most of the core's premier attractions, including the Circle Centre Mall, Monument Circle, the Indiana Convention Center and three professional sports venues.  Prior to its designation as a cultural district, this was one of Downtown's most decayed and blighted areas.  Since 1995, nearly $700 million has been invested in the immediate area, transforming it into one of the city's premier arts and entertainment districts.


Circle Centre Mall

Developed by Simon Property Group, which is also headquartered in Downtown Indianapolis, Circle Centre Mall opened to the public on September 8, 1995.  The mall has been the centerpiece of the redevelopment of downtown into the vibrant scene witnessed today.  The design itself is a mix of old and new.  The 786,000 square foot mall features 100 stores on four levels, Nordstrom, Carson Pirie Scott, GameWorks and a nine-screen United Artists movie theater.



Wholesale District: Urban Sports Facilities 

All Indianapolis' professional sports facilities are located in the Wholesale District, within a five minute walk of each other.  Because these venues host different sports, they attract residents and fans to the Wholesale District on a daily basis, creating a strong market for restaurants, retail shops, and hotels to open nearby.

 Conseco Fieldhouse replaced Market Square Arena as the home of the Indiana Pacers on November 6, 1999. It is notable for being the first modern "retro"-styled facility in the NBA.


 Victory Field opened in 1996 across the street from the Indianapolis Convention Center.  The minor league ballpark has a seating capacity of 15,500.  While critical of the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, Victory Field is mentioned as one of the best minor league stadiums by Ball Park Digest (


 Lucus Oil Stadium is the city's latest sports venue under construction.  The 63,000 retractable roof stadium will serve as the new home of the Indianapolis Colts for the 2008 NFL season.  Once the stadium is complete, the current stadium will be torn down to make room for an expanded Indiana Convention Center.


Wholesale District: Indiana Convention Center

The Indiana Convention Center contains over 400,000 square feet of open exhibit space and 140,000 square feet of group meeting space.  It opened in 1982, along with the RCA Dome (originally the Hoosier Dome) for $82 million.  Once the new NFL stadium is complete, the center will be expanded to 878,000 square feet.  There are currently multiple hotels connected to the center by skywalks, providing conventioneers direct access to 4,700 hotel rooms.  This number will increase by 1,500 in 2010 when the convention center's new JW Marriott tower opens.



Wholesale District: Monument Circle

Alexander Ralston, an apprentice to French architect Pierre L'Enfant was commissioned to design the new capital city.  Ralston's design featured a large circular commons in the center of the city.  In 1857 a 284-foot neoclassical monument was constructed in it.  Today, this area is known as Monument Circle.


Wholesale District: At street level

Because of the high number of anchor destinations adjacent to each other in the Wholesale District, Indianapolis has a vibrant downtown retail scene normally reserved for major pedestrian friendly urban centers such as Chicago's Loop, Philadelphia's Center City, and Boston's Back Bay. 



The Indianapolis Union Station was the first union station in the world, opening on September 20, 1853.  In 1979 the facility was converted from railroad station to festival marketplace by Woollen Molzan & Partners, opening in 1986.  The mall closed in 1997, once Circle Centre took all of its customers.  Today, it serves as the home to a mix of establishments including a hotel, charter school and an African American museum.  Amtrak also still uses the Romanesque Revival structure.


Learning from Indianapolis

Despite the vibrancy of Downtown Indianapolis, it still is separated from the city's urban neighborhoods by surface parking lots.  As this city continues to strive for urban revitalization, the next piece to the Indianapolis puzzle will be attracting infill development to replace the large surface parking lots.

The major thing to take from Indianapolis is to notice what is possible when major urban destinations are located adjacent to each other, with existing historic building fabric left in place, allowing specialty retail and restaurants to open and survive off the traffic that the destinations generate.  The scaled aerials below show it all. 


Downtown Indianapolis aerial 


Downtown Jacksonville aerial 

Most of Indianapolis' major destinations, if moved to the Northbank, would fit in an area that stretched East/West from Berkman Plaza to Broad Street and North/South from the riverfront to State Street.  When overlaying the Indianapolis footprint over the Jacksonville area, the Prime Osborn and Jacksonville Municipal Stadium are so far outside of that area that they can't be seen on the aerial.  This should speak volumes for the importance of connectivity and the clustering of urban development.