New Life in the Bush?

New Life in the Bush?

A number of adaptive reuse plans have been proposed for the nearly 80-year-old ballpark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Courtesy Indiana Landmarks

What do you do with an old baseball stadium? Usually, to the chagrin of fans and preservationists alike, the answer is simple: Tear it down. That’s what happened with the Old Comiskey Park in Chicago and Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Indianapolis’ Bush Stadium, however, could face a better fate. Two disparate proposals are currently in the works to renovate and repurpose the nearly 80-year-old ballpark, located in the city’s historic Riverside neighborhood. While one plan calls for converting the stadium into an apartment complex, another strives to create Indiana’s first “living building.”

The 12,000-seat Bush Stadium, erected in 1931 as Perry Stadium, is rich in history and Americana. The structure was designed by local architects Pierre and Wright, and built by Osborn engineering, the same firm that brought us Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park, and nearly every other famous ballpark of the first half of the 20th century. Notable for its art deco facade and once ivy-covered outfield, the ballpark was a major attraction for the city and state. While primarily home to the minor league Indianapolis Indians, Bush Stadium also hosted two Negro League teams, and played the part of Comiskey Park in the movie Eight Men Out. The ballpark was renamed Victory Stadium during World War II, and finally christened Bush Stadium, after former major leaguer and Indianapolis native Donnie Bush, when the city purchased the stadium in 1967.

With so much history at stake, no one wanted to tear the stadium down when the Indians moved across town to the new Victory Field in 1996. Instead, the ballpark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, sat vacant. Though it has recently been used to store traded-in cash-for-clunkers cars, Indiana Landmarks put Bush Stadium on its list of the state’s ten most endangered structures. The designation has more to do with the stadium’s vacancy than any significant structural damage or deterioration.

though the stadium has recently been used as a depot for cash-for-clunkers cars, much of its historic detail remains intact.

Partially in response to this desire to preserve Bush Stadium, and with the farther-reaching goal of developing the entire corridor along West 16th Street, the city of Indianapolis organized a task force in cooperation with Indiana University, BioCrossroads, and community organizations, among other groups. “The goal of the task force is to bring shovel-ready life sciences projects to the corridor,” said Michael Huber, deputy mayor of Economic Development.

Though chock-full with foursquare homes and bungalows from the 1910s and 1920s, Riverside remains underdeveloped. It is, however, extremely attractive to the life sciences industry, due in great part to its proximity to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Local developer John Watson is currently working with the city on a proposal for 100-plus apartments and office units that would maintain the original facade of Bush Stadium, but not the stadium itself. Huber says preservationists have praised the design for maintaining the important historic aspects of the stadium.

the structure’s art deco facade was designed by local architects Pierre and Wright.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and the educational nonprofit Crossroads of Indianapolis are relatively new to the debate, but they offer a unique proposal. Fitzpatrick wants to turn the stadium into Bush Stadium Park, Indiana’s first living building, an entirely sustainable multiuse showroom and laboratory built into the existing stadium structure. This proposal represents the bulk of Crossroads’ application for the Living City Design Competition, sponsored by the Living Building Institute, a competitor of sorts to the U.S. Green Building Council.

Fitzpatrick and his colleagues are currently finishing their proposal, though they have already met with city officials in anticipation of the contest’s February 1 deadline. “We’re trying to build something that many people have not seen. It’s a challenge for all architects, engineers, and the university,” said Fitzpatrick.

Huber said the mayor’s office is reviewing all proposals, and hopes to make an official recommendation in the next four to five months.