INDIANAPOLIS — If 2020 collapsed downtown Indianapolis' economy, 2023 is when the city laid the foundation for a new, exciting era.
Indianapolis unveiled several projects to improve downtown this year, including two brand new skyscrapers.
"Indianapolis is where Nashville or Austin was in the 1990s," said locally-based urban planner Jeffery Tompkins, who mapped out all of the city's future skyscrapers. "We're right on the tip of that iceberg, but this was the year of the megaproject."
The city first approved $625 million in bonds in May to build a 40-story Signia Hilton hotel and convention center expansion on the site of Pan American Plaza. The project broke ground in August and is slated to open in 2026.
Days after the Signia hotel groundbreaking, Indianapolis finalized plans revive the long-dormant Old City Hall with an attached 32-story tower on what is now a parking lot. The skyscraper will feature a 21C Museum Hotel and condominiums.
Two sports-related projects were the most active construction sites in downtown this year. Bicentennial Unity Plaza opened in August right next to Gainbridge Fieldhouse, and demolition crews cleared the former Diamond Chain factory site to build a 20,000-seat soccer stadium for the Indy Eleven.
Most recently, the developer of the Bottleworks District announced last week it bought the struggling Circle Centre Mall with plans to transform it into an open-air shopping center. The first phase of the revitalization is scheduled to open in 2028.
"To see this amount of investment in downtown is reassuring," Tompkins said. "It's reassuring not only to retailers and denizens of downtown, but also to people around the state who view downtown as this abstract, dangerous place. It is not."
While the big projects may take a while to complete, a much smaller sign of downtown's recovery opens this weekend: a Taco Bell Cantina in a restaurant space next to the ArtsGarden which had been vacant since 2020.
Hoosiers who live in Indianapolis are already excited about the progress.
"There's going to be more walkways and greenery, so I'm excited to see that come to life," Casey Pack said about the Circle Centre mall plans.
"We absolutely need that," Kevin Buchanan said about the future hotels. "We need the money. More hotels mean more money."
Tompkins believes the dark times of the pandemic have now given way to optimism for downtown Indianapolis.
"We're on the ground floor of the next great place to be," Tompkins said. "Especially after COVID, it's not only surreal, but it's really refreshing."