Downtown residents have been clamoring for a Target store since the area began its revitalization two decades ago.
Despite an explosion in downtown Indianapolis population over the last ten years, atop over $1 billion in investment, the retail component has not kept up. Currently, many downtown developments such as Artistry witness empty storefronts; Circle Centre mall, which has suffered for years, is presently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation – this after a glut of closings and the loss of Carson Pirie Scott earlier in 2018. With a plethora of mixed-use developments in the works – creating yet even more retail space – there are concerns the first-floor retail will go unfilled. Recently, there has been a creative push by Downtown Indy Inc. to fill some of these spaces. While more residents may bring more stores, there hasn’t been much commercial space leased outside of craft-beer bars and restaurants. The high rents developers must charge in urban developments are more prohibitive to start-ups and local entrepreneurs, all while a nationwide retail “apocalypse” ensues — with Sears, Toys ‘R Us, Bon Ton, and others declaring bankruptcy in the last five years. While some pundits have argued retail is simply adjusting to a period of massive overbuilding by square footage, the fact remains that online shopping has cut deeply into physical retail.
While shopping online is convenient, fast, and often cheaper, there will always be an element of desire for a physical storefront. Not only do people need essentials like soap and toilet paper on the quick, but they need a place to be seen. And surely, there are positive trends in retail — retailers are increasingly interested in revitalized urban neighborhoods popular with the creative class, opening express “city” stores with buy-online-and-pick-up options. We humans are social creatures, and, whether we admit it or not, there is an inherent need to be around others. As French journalist Alfred Delvau eloquently stated,
“We find it tiresome to live and die at home, we require public display, big events, these trees, the cabaret, to witness us for better or worse — we like to pose, put on a show, to have an audience, a gallery, witnesses to our life.”
Retailers are catching on, and even online shops have begun to dip their toes in brick and mortar. In many ways, the next big thing to boost a competitive edge in retail is “offlining”, or complementing an online presence with a physical location. In spite of retail’s cataclysmic outlook, it is important to note that 90 cents of every retail dollar in the United States is still spent at a physical store. Following the foray into brick and mortar of retailers such as online eye-care retailer Warby Parker and apparel outlet Bonobos, even online juggernaut Amazon is getting into the game, opening its own slew of “Amazon Go” retail spaces this year in Seattle and Chicago.
Not everything in the quick-stop trend has been hunky-dory. For instance, Walmart recently sold off the remains of its failed “express” concept to Dollar General, after opening more than 100 stores in urban centers. Many chalked this up to Walmart’s low favorability with the more educated and affluent that usually comprise trendy urban neighborhoods.
Which brings us to Target. Walmart’s arch-rival and a succubus of millennial dollars, chic-discount retailer Target offers a wide-range of goods, from trendy apparel to clever seasonal items. The company is preferred by the younger and the college-educated, and securing the retailer has long has been viewed as being icing atop downtown Indy’s nicely-developing cake.
For years, Target has targeted college-campuses and dense urban neighborhoods as the next frontier. In early 2018, the Target Corporation made a vow to open over 130 “CityTarget” express stores by the end of 2019 – the first phase of openings included a location in West Lafayette, Indiana near Purdue University. Target is betting that their CityTarget concept, a downsized iteration catering to convenience, will attract shoppers in more affluent or denser environs. The company has steadily increased its spending in small-format stores to over $7 billion, thanks to allocations by CEO Brian Cornell. CityTargets are much smaller than their big-box brethren, and according to the company’s press release, “the new small-format stores, which generally size between roughly 17,000–50,000 square feet, aim to target three key markets: urban centers, suburban areas and college campuses”. The aim is to fit Target into the on-the-go urban lifestyle, and many of the stores will house CVS pharmacies and Starbucks coffee shops inside, with nearly a quarter of the space allocated to groceries.
This size would fit perfectly in many of the new mixed-use structures that have been popping up downtown over the last decade, and nearby cities have received a CityTarget of their own, including one near UC in Cincinnati. A quick look at a map of Target’s metropolitan Indianapolis locations reveals a city-sized hole in the doughnut, one that could be nicely filled by a CityTarget in Center Township – see below.
Downtown Indy has more than doubled its population in recent years, and with a spate of mega-projects in the works, there seems no reason to think it will slow down anytime soon. Downtown is increasingly more educated, more wealthy, and denser, all demographics that could lean favorably toward a successful downtown retail opening. In line with Target’s emphasis toward college campuses, IUPUI is already downtown, with Butler, Marian, and the University of Indianapolis all nearby, as well as Ivy Tech’s main campus. Indiana University’s master plan acknowledged the need for an urban-style college village in IUPUI’s master plan — even going as far as listing the University of Cincinnati’s adjacent neighborhood as an example to follow, exactly the neighborhood Target eventually located in. In all, that is over 60,000 college students with reasonable accessibility to a potential downtown locale, thanks in part to the future Red Line BRT.
And keep in mind, Target announced it was opening a location in West Lafayette – and if Mitch Daniels can have one, why not downtown Indianapolis?
Adding a big-name retailer like Target to downtown will diminish car trips current denizens have to take to stores out in the urban periphery of Indy’s suburban sprawl. Plus, the potential success of a downtown Target would signal to other nationwide retailers that downtown Indy is prime for business, thus leading to a huge economic impact for Central Township’s retail future.
It seems the company is intrigued in Indianapolis – years back, there was speculation the company was interested in leasing space as part of a past proposal for the land where the Market Street Whole Foods currently stands. Central Township is home to over 100,000 people – which would seem palatable to host larger-scale retail. Discount retailer TJ Maxx has survived downtown for a multitude of years and seems to do quite well – this in spite of Circle Centre Mall’s general collapse. Target, with its trendy home decor and seasonal items suited for the college-educated, would seem a perfect fit for downtown Indianapolis, which has become a magnate of sorts for an in-state migration of college graduates from Big 10 schools such as IU and Purdue. Also, keep in mind that downtown hosts huge events every year, including massive conventions such as GenCon and sporting events like the NCAA Final Four. If you think that out-of-towners from New York won’t shop at a convenient downtown Target, you are sorely mistaken.
Given that Target has explicitly stated it is looking at urban markets to build in, and downtown Indianapolis is undergoing an extensive boom, the match of Target and downtown Indy seems inevitable. Assuming city leaders and the company make it happen, here is a look at five locations that could host the retailer.
5. Lux on Capitol
Michigan and Capitol
According their site, luxoncapitol.com, this project is, “the ultimate, service-driven student living community located three blocks east of campus and boasting 370,000 square-feet of luxury amenities.”
(Editor’s note: I was happy just to have food in college, I can’t imagine the student debt these kids must be in.)
The site has a wonderful location near a future stop of the Red Line BRT and is favorably close to IUPUI. There is a Kroger directly across Michigan so maybe it’s not ideal, but there are plenty of lots nearby being redeveloped. Transit-oriented development should reshape much of the Capitol corridor, and as Michigan leads directly into the heart of IUPUI’s campus, there seems to be a push toward creating a university-type village near Mocha Joe’s. With extended and protected bike lanes along Michigan and easy access to the Canal district, Lux on Capitol is well positioned as a destination between IUPUI and Veterans Memorial Plaza. A concern is the retail desert surrounding Kroger, as the Cosmopolitan development has had difficulty securing commercials tenants despite adjacency to the canal. The neighborhood’s identity is continuing to be shaped by its proximity to IUPUI, and perhaps a large retailer such as Target could entirely change the corridor. The trend of luxurious housing catering to students often includes international students with money, usually indicating a propensity of expendable cash. If Lux on Capitol became the site of a CityTarget, it would probably do well. If that’s at the expense of Kroger, then maybe this isn’t the right location.
4. The Whit
307 N. Pennsylvania Street
Centrally located and adjacent to University Park, the Whit may be a perfect candidate for a CityTarget. Developed by TWG (responsible for Lockerbie Lofts), the Whit will be the only city rental overlooking protected green space.
Offering 9 stories and over 300 units, the development is the second phase of a block-sized project emanating from Delaware Avenue to Pennsylvania St. downtown, right at the door of the Mass Ave Cultural District. Adding some much needed density, the project should do well to stimulate a corridor that has seen its share of transient populations. Along with a renovation of the nearby AT&T building, University Park may finally become the activated park-space Downtown Indy Inc. envisioned before getting shut down in their requests to build a public play space. Although it has recently secured 16Bit, a first floor arcade bar, as a tenant, a CityTarget would not be out of place. Granted, the space constraint may not provide enough leeway for the requirements Target would have, and the accessibility for shipping truck traffic may pose a problem.
But given its central location near Monument Circle and Mass Ave, as well as its access to transit and bike lanes, the Whit may just be the right fit.
3. The Ardmore
Corner of Delaware and New York St.
If the Whit is at the door of Mass Ave, then the Ardmore has one foot in. Not yet under construction, but slated to be finished in 2021, the severely under-scaled project is bringing five stories directly next to Indiana’s third tallest building. Yes, five stories.
Brought to us by Deylen Realty and acting as a telomere for the popular Mass Ave district, those five whole stories will contribute 126 luxury units and 20,000 square feet of first floor commercial space, which is just above the 17,000 required for a CityTarget. Many of the advantages are the same as the Whit i.e. centrally located near Mass Ave, access to transit and bike lanes – however, working in the Ardmore’s favor is easier interstate access for commercial trucks, which have more than enough room along Delaware and Ohio. There are no tenants secured yet, which might also work to Deylen’s benefit as Target may favor having access to an entire floor. Of note: the development will also include 312 parking spaces, which, like it or not, may be welcomed by the retailer.
Either way, Ardmore will bring increased density and a greater sense of enclosure for Mass Ave’s entrance. While its architectural context may be lacking, a prime location ensures that whatever fills the first-floor retail component will be something to keep your eye on.
2. Penrose on Mass
Mass and New Jersey
If you’ve noticed a trend with this list, it’s probably that many of these developments are on or near Mass Ave. Not only is the district thriving in terms of raw investment, but it most assuredly offers the most urban experience in the entire state. Beside multitudinous restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops, there is the world-class Cultural Trail popular with locals and tourists alike. Indy’s downtown renaissance arguably started right here.
For years, the defining line on Mass Ave was a “dead block” separating the lively shops on the southern end of the avenue and the artsy theaters on the northern end. The former location of Indianapolis Fire Department HQ was a long gray block absent of sidewalks. With no semblance of friendliness toward pedestrians, it was unactivated and people avoided the block at all costs. It dampened the connectivity of the entire avenue.
Now in 2018, the picture above is just a figment of memory, washed away by a frenetic land-swap, huge sums of money, and a hopeful developer. Meet Penrose, another mixed-user that promises to at last complete the avenue. Developed by JC Hart, the project offers over 40,000 square feet of retail that is quickly getting filled up by …you guessed it, restaurants. Penrose will contain just over 200 market-rate apartments and include parking units which may be alluring to a national retailer. With its location in the heart of Mass Ave, Penrose is a great candidate for a CityTarget – although, one would speculate it is not the best candidate on the Ave.
Which brings us to:
1. Bottleworks District
Mass Ave and College
If downtown Indy is chosen for a CityTarget, then the location will most likely be Bottleworks.
A buttload of retail space, the first West Elm hotel in the United States, a thriving business district, a historic and reclaimed former Coca-Cola bottling plant; what else could you want from a development? Bottleworks will be transformative, acting as the last piece of Mass Ave. Along with the construction of Penrose to the south, Bottleworks will create an uninterrupted wall of activation on Mass Ave from 10th St. to Delaware.
This will be a true mixed-use community, with an artisanal theatre, a food hall, and residences surrounded by office space, retailers, and a street arcade. For Target, this would seem the easiest choice.
According to bottleworksdistrict.com,
“There will be 143,340 square feet of retail space available on Massachusetts Avenue, College Avenue, 9th Street and Carrollton Avenue. Retail suites from 1,000 to 22,000 sq ft are available. The retail merchandising mix will include unique and exceptional local, regional and national tenants across a mix of restaurants, soft goods, entertainment, service, fitness and specialty retailers. The renewed streetscape will captivate with its gleaming Art Deco facades restored to their authentic beauty, along with exciting options for dining, playing and living every moment of the day.”
Beside its central location amidst Indiana’s most urban district, Bottleworks is perfectly situated along interstates for truck traffic, near transit, adjacent to the Cultural Trail, and within walking distance of Chatham Arch, St. Joseph, Cottage Home, the Old Northside, and Lockerbie neighborhoods. This is a slam dunk for any retailer.
Obviously, the economy could totally drop out in the next couple years, leaving Target’s estimated store-opening figures in the wake. But, assuming things stay steady for the next five years or so, in 2022 I’ll be buying my stocking stuffers at the CityTarget of Bottleworks.
Ah, doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?
© Jeffery Tompkins 2018