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City of Indianapolis Tells Architects it Wants a Taller 1,000 room
 Hotel Design with a Higher Architectural Value
By Ted Evanoff, The Indianapolis StarMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Dec. 24, 2006 --Around the world, cities are putting up buildings of distinctive, even flamboyant style.

But when Indianapolis convention officials last week picked a developer for the new Downtown hotel, they passed on an exuberant 44-story design, the InterContinental.

Instead, they chose the mid-rise Marriott, 25 stories shaped like a modern cube, a quiet style they said was the better business choice, given a relatively tight deadline.

What the city really wants, however, is more flair.

The officials told the architects to return with a taller and more appealing design, and do it before March.

"We hope we have a flagship hotel that changes the face of the city," said Barbara Lawrence, director of the Indianapolis Bond Bank, the city agency charged with selecting the developer. "We want to have a higher architectural value than what was presented in the renderings.

"The committee looked at two proposals. One design was very appealing, the other less so. The realization was neither one of these projects was truly designed yet.

"So there was some flexibility there to make sure we had a hotel that was architecturally significant. We want it to make a statement."

Just what the development team led by REI Real Estate Services of Carmel will come up with in the new design is still unknown.

But area residents and architects who had groaned about the tame style in the architect's renderings approved of the selection committee's order for a new design of the $250 million hotel.

"This is going to be a major building on the Downtown skyline. With the emphasis on arts and culture that we have in Indianapolis, I'm sure the committee is looking for something distinctive," said Indianapolis architect Tad Lupton, president of the American Institute of Architects' local chapter.

Architects insist the skyline reflects a city's vitality as much as vision.

"These buildings are really an understanding of what our community has come to be," adds William Browne Jr., head of Ratio Architects.

"We're no longer Indiana-noplace. We're a destination city," said Browne, whose firm is designing the Indiana Convention Center expansion. "There's a recognition that people are becoming proud of this place."

Architects not involved in the project say there's enough time to give the hotel an appealing design without driving up the budget. Groundbreaking is set for 2008 and completion in 2010.

"One doesn't necessarily have to have good architecture. It just needs to be distinctive architecture," said Jon Coddington, head of Ball State University's architecture school.

Distinctive style shows thought given to the look of the building's top and bottom: the shadows, balconies and recessed windows, the way the structure looks among neighboring buildings.

"It needs to be built with a timeless attitude," Browne said.

Timeless buildings fit in. For example, architects shaped a pyramidal top on Indianapolis' Chase Tower, the 49-story skyscraper completed in 1990. The design parallels the lines of the nearby Indiana World War Memorial, a massive 1902 monument at 431 N. Meridian St.

"How the facade is animated by light will be important," Coddington said. "Flat plate glass is not interesting when you walk about it. It doesn't take shadow and shade very well.

"If it is brick, the windows can be recessed a bit. This looks better. You can have balconies. That engages one's imagination. You can stand in the street and look up and imagine what it's like to be in a room looking over the river."

The street-level view may be the most important, Coddington said. Flowers, shrubs, trees, sidewalks, doorways, art and public areas, if staged well, can convey a sense of being in a special place.

Although the InterContinental team came in with 1,016 rooms and a saucy look, city officials say the square Marriott was a more sound business deal. Marriott's global reservations staff books conventions for its hotels around the world.

And there was no possibility of a land dispute pushing the project past deadline. The Marriott team controls the five-acre site, now home to a 235-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel. The InterContinental team would have had to buy the rights to the Pan Am Plaza and the garage underneath.

The city's bond bank, set up in the 1980s to help finance the revitalization of Downtown, expects to sign a letter of intent with the Marriott developers in the next few days. The letter will spell out the deal in broad terms, Lawrence said.

The details will be negotiated in January for a project agreement expected to be completed in February. In that agreement, the city will define key matters, including the hotel's look and size. City officials expect 1,000 rooms and 30 floors.

The public-finance group at Indianapolis law firm Baker & Daniels has been hired as the city's adviser on writing the agreement. Meanwhile, the architects are beginning to design the hotel.

"This is the schematic design phase, putting more pencil to paper," said Jeremey Stephenson, REI business development director. "It'll be a nice design and one that certainly is somewhat striking to the skyline."

For many, though, bold architectural statements fail to resonate as they once did.

"The proliferation of electronic media has made our culture increasingly an interior culture," said Steven Mannheimer, professor of informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and former architecture critic for The Indianapolis Star. "My students live their life through computer screens rather than walking around a public square."

Yet cities are intent on putting up flamboyant buildings.

Museum Place -- 62 stories of hotel, condo and office space set to tower over Louisville, Ky., in 2010 -- is thought by some critics to be among the dozen most significant designs under way in the world. In Nashville, Tenn., the planned Signature Towers would rise 65 stories, 1,047 feet high -- taller than rival Atlanta's.

Not to be outdone, Chicago developers have proffered plans for the world's tallest building: 400 North Lakeshore, 124 stories, 2,000 feet tall.

While fans of architecture may rave about Louisville's proposed $465 million tower, Lawrence contends Indianapolis is building its economy as much as its skyline.

The city is putting up a $1 billion airport and terminal project even as it bolsters its tourism, entertainment and convention trade by spending $1.2 billion in public and private money on a Downtown hotel, Convention Center expansion and new football stadium.

"From the time a person lands at the airport, they'll go into a new terminal, go to a convention center that is brand new and state of the art. Some of the exhibits could be in a brand-new football stadium. And they'll have the ability to stay in a brand-new 1,000-room hotel," Lawrence said. "It says a lot about this city."

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To see more of The Indianapolis Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.IndyStar.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Indianapolis Star

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