At Home at the Ballpark


Among the reasons that Indianapolis was honored as the Indiana Chamber's 2012 Community of the Year was innovative economic development projects. One of those initiatives, turning the former Bush Stadium into a 138-unit apartment complex, is believed to be the first of its kind and earned some national attention in this Governing magazine story.

Bush Stadium — like many professional sports venues across the country — posed a problem for the community: What do you do with a stadium when a team leaves? (That topic was the subject of a 2011 Governing feature). Baseball stadiums are purpose-built, so they don't offer easy solutions for re-use. Yet they have sentimental and historic value that make demolition a sensitive topic.

Bush Stadium found its savior in John Watson, the principal of Core Redevelopment — which specializes in reusing historic buildings.

Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit that works to preserve and rehabilitate historic properties, had previously included the stadium on its list of endangered buildings. Marsh Davis, president of the nonprofit, joined Watson in pitching the city on the project, which ultimately contributed funding to the undertaking.

Cox calls the project a “three-dimensional puzzle.” About 85 percent of the building’s volume was torn out, so essentially a new structure was created in the shape of a stadium while maintaining the original wall. “Our company motto is, don’t fight the building,” Cox says.

The developers did retain some especially intriguing parts of the facility. The former owner’s office – complete with a fireplace and restored hardwood floors – is being incorporated into a one of the apartments.  The baseball diamond – once made of dirt – will be made of colored concrete and surrounded by grass. “If you’re in a unit looking down,” Cox says, “it still looks like a baseball field.” The effect makes the the apartments feel like luxury boxes.

Despite the high-profile status of the project, rents aren’t particular expensive: a large 1,600 square-foot studio goes for around $1,300 per month, and a smaller 580 square-foot, one-bedroom costs about $599 (the company’s already leased 35 units).

Davis says there was a risk that the stadium would be demolished, given that the area was poised for development and years had gone by without a viable method of re-use being identified.

“There are purists who would like to see it remain as a ballpark,” Davis says. “The city studied it every which way. There was no economically feasible way. There were no takers. So the alternative is: Do you scrap it, do you save a token wall, or do you do something creative?”

The project cost around $13 million, with the city picking up $3.5 million of the tab. Those funds were generated by the city's downtown tax incremental financing district, though the stadium falls outside its boundaries. Another $1.8 million for the project came from the state.

Deron Kintner, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, says the Stadium Lofts complex is part of a larger effort the city has taken to redevelop the area as a hub for the life sciences industry, given its proximity to a university, a medical school, and hospitals. The city kicked in its funding since leaders thought it was important to preserve the historic building and believes Stadium Lofts would help bring momentum to the development of the community.