Council asked to back $75M in bonds to restart tech park idea

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Proposed life science park would create thousands of jobs on land north of IUPUI campus

Backers of the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute that landed $25 million in start-up funding from the state want to up the ante and reignite stalled plans for a 50-acre tech park on the Near Westside.

On Monday they will ask the Indianapolis City-County Council for $75 million of bonds for the tech park along Indiana Avenue north of Eskenazi Hospital and Fall Creek.

Plans call for using most of the bond money — $59 million — to pay for costly prep work for the site, including relocating water lines and wells, constructing roads, and raising the low-lying land with up to four feet of added dirt. A new four-lane bridge also would be built over Fall Creek to link the tech park directly to the IUPUI campus.

“This is a great opportunity for the city and we’ve really gotten broad support for it,” said Betsy McCaw, chief operating officer of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP).

Tech park supporters need approval of the bond issue before the end of the year, she said, so that plans can move ahead to build a permanent home for the research institute, which would be the park’s anchor tenant.

The other $16 million would pay interest on the bonds and go into a debt service reserve. About $3 million would be put into a community development fund to pay for job training and other services for residents of nearby neighborhoods.

Plans for the park are ambitious. They call for paying off the bonds with new property tax revenue from park buildings that would hold 3 million square feet of office, lab and research space.

An architectural rendering of what the park could look like when built out over 20 years or more shows a densely developed site that also includes a 480-room hotel, 1,400 apartment units and 250,000 square feet of restaurant and other retail space.

The park could be home to several thousand scientists and other workers, McCaw said.

A new entity, 16 Tech Community Group, was created to manage the park. The initial phase would contain the research institute’s building and the old Indianapolis Water Co. offices that would be converted and expanded for research space and labs. Baltimore-based Wexford Science and Technology LLC is developer of the first phase.

McCaw said park planners see the park attracting a range of tech organizations, mostly focused in the life sciences.

About 10 buildings are now scattered around the site, most owned by public entities, including the city, Indiana University and IU Health. The site also includes several acres that hold offices of the Saturday Evening Post and are owned by the family of late long-serving City-County Council President Beurt SerVaas.

The city recently acquired about 20 acres of the proposed park site from Citizens Energy Group, which runs the city’s water system and still operates a pump station, wells and underground reservoirs on and next to the site, McCaw said.

A significant amount of the city’s drinking water is pumped from wells on the site, which is underlayed with a network of water pipes. Some of the wells and pipes would have to be relocated to allow development of buildings in the park, she said.

After approval is given for bond funding, the 16 Tech group will start negotiating with land owners to buy or include their land in the park, McCaw said.

Council member Vop Osili, whose district includes the park, called it a “great idea.” He predicted that the Democrat-controlled council will approve the bond funding. The park site is already within a tax increment financing district that’s eligible for bond-funded development.

Osili, a Democrat, said he thinks the park could start covering payments on the bonds within five years, using property tax revenue from new buildings.

“I think it will get a good amount of support in council,” Osili said. “This is large. I’m very excited about the transformational possibilities.”

A previous effort to develop the site for a tech park, begun in 2002 under former Mayor Bart Peterson, never got off the ground because of lack of an anchor tenant and other issues, said David Johnson, president and CEO of CICP.

“It’s a very hard thing we are trying to do. No one wants to underestimate it,” he said.

The research institute, which needs about 100,000 square feet of space, now provides that anchor tenant, he said. Institute sponsors, including drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., have pledged $25 million in private money to fund the institute, along with the $25 million from the state.

The institute aims to promote research into diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and other pressing human health needs. It plans to have 150 to 200 researchers on staff and a budget of $35 million to $40 million within 10 years.

The institute’s start-up staff will move soon into leased space in an IUPUI building at 16th Street and Indiana Avenue.

Adam Collins, deputy mayor for economic development under Mayor Greg Ballard, said the Republican mayor supports use of city bonding to develop the tech park.

“We would be very foolish not to take advantage of it,” Collins said. “It should have bipartisan support.”

He said city officials are studying the proposal to see if its tax revenue projections are realistic.

“We expect it is going to be something we can afford,” he said.


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