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Downtown jail, mall under consideration for residential development in Indianapolis

Circle Centre Mall and a former Marion County Jail are among the properties being considered for residential development in downtown Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Could you someday live at Circle Centre Mall?

City leaders and retail experts say housing could play a key role to revitalizing the downtown landmark that, like other urban malls, has seen better days.

And not just the mall.

"What we're thinking is maybe the most beneficial things right now – and we know there is demand for it – is to see more people living downtown," said Scarlett Andrews, director of the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development.

"Downtown demand for residential life is still at a record high," said Bob Schultz, vice president of marketing at Downtown Indy, Inc. "We're seeing 90% occupancy of downtown residential – rentals and owned homes."

The city of Indianapolis recently issued a request for proposals for City Market East and the Marion County Jail II and Arrestee Processing Center. City officials said they'd like to see residential use involved at those sites as well.

"Seldom does a downtown urban core have as much development in its mile square and the opportunity for that new development than now," said Schultz. "Clearly right now is a critical crossroads of opportunity."

That includes the City-County Building, which will sit about half-empty when Marion County Courts and IMPD fully move into the newly built Community Justice Center.

"Whatever we decide is best on the (City Market East and Jail II) proposals, that will help us drive the decision at the City-County Building site," said Andrews.

Credit: WTHR

As for Circle Centre Mall, retail experts say it wouldn't be unheard of to transform it into housing – at least partially.

"Today, what is happening is that malls of this type are being backfilled with office, residential, exercise, law firms, you name it," said John Talbott, director of the Center for Education and Research in Retail at Indiana University Kelly School of Business. "What I see happening in malls, in general, is this development of, I call them 'experience centers.'"

In other words, a place to live work and play. Think Mass Ave or Broad Ripple.

"It's difficult to move a big ship and Circle Centre is a big ship that was purposed for one thing at the beginning and we've got to figure out where it ends up on the other side," Talbott said. "As we think more broadly of 'What we can do with that indoor space?' I'm confident it can get backfilled and have some interesting things in place."

Schultz said Downtown Indy, Inc. is currently tracking more than 50 projects in the works for downtown, bringing an estimated $3.5 billion in investment.

"And those are committed. Permits have been pulled and movement is already happening," he said.