Trashing the Competition

Indy developer drops $1.4 billion plan to revamp old GM stamping plant

Ambrose Property Group announced it will sell a former GM plant site which was set to be redesigned following an international design competition. (Rendering by Ratio/Courtesy Ambrose Property Group)

Update from Ambrose Property Group at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, September 30: 

“Ambrose Property Group and Central Indiana Community Foundation, in partnership with Exhibit Columbus, have decided to postpone the Waterside Design Competition Juried Presentations scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 2. Ambrose will not be the long-term owner of Waterside, however, the three organizations hope to work with Hood Design Studio, SCAPE, and Snøhetta to explore opportunities to meaningfully advance important conversations about design for our city. We are thankful for the designers’ work on this project and the important role they play in strengthening arts and culture in Indianapolis.”

A former General Motors (GM) stamping plant in Indianapolis was set to become a massive new corporate campus designed by some of the biggest names in architecture. Today, the owner of the site, Ambrose Property Group, announced it is scrapping its plans.

AN previously reported that three shortlisted design teams were chosen in May for a competition that would reimagine the 103-acre plot of land, home to the Albert Kahn–designed GM plant formerly known as Crane Bay. The teams included Hood Design Studio with Thomas Phifer and Partners and Arup; SCAPE with SO-IL, Guy Nordenson and Associates, James Lima Planning + Development, Art Strategies, Nelson\Nygaard, and Manuel Miranda Practice; and Snøhetta with Moody Nolan, Arup, HR&A, Art Strategies, and Chris Wangro.

Spearheaded by Ambrose in partnership with Exhibit Columbus and the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the redevelopment contest was expected to finalize a vision for what would one day be a new, mixed-use district near downtown Indianapolis. Over 1,300 residential units, 2.75 million square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of retail, and a hotel would make up the $1.4 billion neighborhood of Waterside.

Rendering of fully-landscaped mixed-use community with multiple buildings of various heights

Waterside was meant to bridge a low-income neighborhood known as The Valley to downtown Indianapolis. (Rendering by Ratio/Courtesy Ambrose Property Group)

In a letter addressed to the Indianapolis community, Ambrose’s founder and CEO Aasif Bade explained his reason for selling the property: 

I’m writing to update the local community of Ambrose’s decision to focus our business on e-commerce and industrial development both in Indianapolis and nationally. We believe that a focused approach on one segment of real estate development is best for our investors, our clients, employees and the communities where we invest. As part of this decision, we plan to pursue the sale of our mixed-use and office projects, including Waterside. 

The news came as a shock to the designers today, who all presented their design philosophies and approaches to the public in June. The teams were expected to unveil conceptual schemes on October 2 and go into further details about how they would repurpose the old Crane Bay, build an urban plaza surrounding the site, and construct a pedestrian bridge over the White River, connecting Waterside directly to downtown. 

SCAPE told AN in an email that while its office understands the complexity of financing, real estate, and strategy, the timing of the announcement was “not ideal.”

Our team has fallen in love with the GM Stamping Plant site, and we have so much to offer this process. We’ve enjoyed ideating on and building out ideas about how this place—a 100-acre slab of concrete—could transform by investing in civic life and landscape at its core. We believe the City, local residents, community members, and other stakeholders that have contributed their time and knowledge over many years will remain committed to an engaged and collaborative process. At the same time, everyone is sobered by this setback and acknowledges the challenge ahead.

Aerial view of the General Motors Stamping Plant in 1945

Aerial view of the General Motors Stamping Plant in 1945 (Courtesy Waterside/Ambrose Property Group)

Located in an opportunity zone, the project was a top priority for the city of Indianapolis. The nearly-90-year-old structure has sat empty ever since it closed its doors in 2011 following GM’s declaration of bankruptcy. and the Waterside development was a key part of the city’s failed pitch to host Amazon’s HQ2. A representative from the mayor’s office told The Indianapolis Star that Ambrose’s decision is disappointing, but the city will keep trying to find a way to develop the site. “We intend to use all available tools to ensure that the future of this parcel will live up to the years of planning that has occurred and the ongoing White River Vision Plan,” said Thomas Cook, the mayor’s chief of staff.

According to Ambrose, the design competition will still be moving forward next week, but it’s unclear if and how those ideas will be used or whether the participants will be reimbursed for their efforts. The Central Indiana Community Foundation said it hopes the momentum will continue regardless: 

“Our partnership with Ambrose and Waterside has been unique in the way it connected residents and neighborhoods to community development,” said the Foundation in an email, “and we are proud that the Waterside Design Competition put a spotlight on our city’s current development success and potential by bringing three world-renown and award-winning designers to Indianapolis…CICF will continue to engage the community to ensure Southwest Indianapolis residents are part of the neighborhood’s equitable and inclusive growth.” 

AN reached out for comment from the other shortlisted firms and will update this story we hear back. Additional reporting by Shawn Simmons. 

Related Stories