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Muncie in downtown mode

Project aims to revitalize city, attract interest

– The first floor of the Lofts at Roberts building – the former Roberts Hotel – could become ground zero in an effort to draw young, tech-oriented business people to downtown Muncie.

The city is hoping efforts to create the Downtown Muncie Innovation Zone – a spin-off of the local Innovation Connector business incubator – will not only lead to a new workspace downtown but create more demand to just be a part of downtown.

The Innovation Zone is close to what is likely to develop into a bustling section of downtown. The Lofts at Roberts building overlooks what will soon turn into a work zone: Construction is set to begin in August on a $40 million Courtyard by Marriott, a six-story, 150-room hotel and hospitality industry training center for the disabled. The Courtyard, being built by Arc Innovations, is set to open late summer or early fall of 2015.

The city is also planning an August start of construction for an $8 million parking garage to serve the hotel and Horizon Convention Center. The city also owns land near the site of the hotel that it hopes to use to attract more development.

“This will be a vital part of downtown,” Ted Baker, executive director of the Innovation Connector, told the Star Press. “We want to be where the action is.”

Although work is ongoing, the Innovation Zone project could cost more than $300,000 and be complete this fall. In recent months, the Muncie Redevelopment Commission approved payment of more than $300,000 and $18,000 to Pridemark Construction and Advanced Walls and Ceilings, respectively, for remodeling and finishing the MRC-owned space on the first floor.

As part of the deal that brought the Lofts at Roberts to the building, the city found itself in possession of about 11,000 square feet of space on the first floor of the building. The space does not include the former hotel’s two-story lobby – which is reserved for the use of the building’s apartment users – but does include the former restaurant, bar, meeting and dining rooms and a space that hotel visitors will remember as a room with a fireplace that attracted players of bridge and other card games.

The city has tenants and uses for most of that space but will soon be looking for a crucial missing component: the right demographic of users.

“Millennials want something that is true to what it is, but cool,” Baker said. “This will have the best of both worlds. The building has historical integrity and it will be the right fit for their needs.”

In a tour for the Star Press last week, Baker and Todd Donati, executive director of the Muncie Redevelopment Commission, showed off progress on the project, most of which has a completion and occupancy target date of Oct. 1.

Some of the areas being re-purposed require little work, while others – notably the former Flappers bar – are being substantially overhauled. At Flappers – where the name is still in the window glass even though the hotel and bar closed in 2006 – the bar is gone and the area has been cut into private offices. Walls are going up.

The tentatively named Downtown Muncie Innovation Zone will offer annual and daily rates for space, Baker said.

Donati and Baker said they hope tenants will fill some of the space on a long-term basis, as they do in the Innovation Connector building west of downtown, leaving other space for people who might be in town for a day for business and want a quiet space to work, with access to an Internet connection and other office features.

The Innovation Zone is only 5,000 square feet of the 11,000 square feet the city owns on the first floor of the building.

Construction is also underway on just over 1,000 square feet of space for the Center for Vital Aging.

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