The Hangar: mixed-use apartments should be everywhere. Why, then, do they routinely depend on loopholes?

The Hangar at Emerson Pointe: new residential with retail in Greenwood IN

I’ll confess: a part of me wanted to feature The Hangar at Emerson Pointe apartment complex simply because I took such an amazing photo, completely unintentionally.  I mean, look at that beauty!  Doesn’t it look like the sort of professional rendering that marketing firm—or the marketing arm of a development company—might use to promote their latest product?  The glow of the letters, the brilliant lighting of that first floor, the jaunty axonometric, even the backdrop cloud pattern.  And I didn’t retouch a single pixel with Adobe Photoshop or anything else from the Creative Suite vertical monopoly.  I swear.  But, looking past the aesthetics, The Hangar is significant because it represents the first of its kind (that I’m aware of) for Indianapolis suburb Greenwood: it’s a mixed-use apartment infill, primarily featuring rental units but with a smart little additional touch on the first floor.

This shouldn’t be a milestone development, but in many respects it is one, at least for this southside suburb of about 65,000 people—a suburb I have featured numerous times.  It’s the first residential project at the intersection of County Line Road and Emerson Avenue, an area just south of Indianapolis (the “county line” that forms the Indy/Greenwood boundary), which has burgeoned with auto-oriented convenience shops in the last fifteen years, ever since the State of Indiana helped finance a new cloverleaf interchange between County Line Road and Interstate 65, just a few hundred feet further to the east.  Prior to the construction of that interchange, Emerson Avenue at County Line Road offered little more than a few modest office buildings amidst the cornfields.

Correction: it offered cornfields and—on the Greenwood side—the Indy South Greenwood Airport (HFY), formerly Greenwood Municipal Airport.  While an airport has operated at this site since 1947, nearly always with the intent of meeting general aviation needs, the municipal airport’s land holdings were probably larger than necessary to accommodate a single mile-long runway and 80 single-engine planes.  When land values at Emerson/County Line exploded through the increase in traffic elicited by the new I-65 interchange, the HFY airport authority subdivided the peripheral land within its holdings and sold those parcels to private developers, resulting in additional office and retail development, predictably auto centric.

In other words, strip malls.  Emerson Pointe, the one in the photo above, has largely prospered for at least fifteen years at the southwest corner of County Line and Emerson.  The Hangar at Emerson Pointe, which started accepting tenants in late 2023, opened immediately south of this strip mall, which explains its name.  The photo below shows how close Emerson Pointe (the strip mall) and The Hangar at Emerson Pointe really are.

The Hangar at Emerson Pointe: new residential with retail in Greenwood IN

Indy South Greenwood Airport sits along the horizon line in the space between the two buildings.  The Hangar at Emerson Pointe isn’t walkable in character, but it’s still walkable in terms of basic geometry/proximity.  As of the end of 2023, residents at The Hangar have a less than two-minute walk to a variety of stores in this mid-sized shopping center: a Dollar Tree, a bridal shop, a 24-hour fitness center, the obligatory nail/hair salons, a bicycle shop, a few medical-adjacent operations, a cellular carrier, a popular local sports bar, a Mexican eatery, and a vegan/halal pizzeria.

The Hangar at Emerson Pointe occupies one of the last remaining undeveloped parcels from the former Indy South Greenwood Airport excess lands, which helps explain the name of the apartment complex.  And though a three-story apartment building isn’t particularly special even in a suburban context like Greenwood, the massing and contemporary façade are much more in keeping with a site one might expect in a hip little mid-density urban neighborhood, not the vacant land next to a strip mall parking lot.  But the biggest distinguishing factor is the “smart little additional touch” that I referenced way back in the first paragraph.  Does my nighttime rendering give it away?  What about this less spectacular daytime photo?

The Hangar at Emerson Pointe: new residential with retail in Greenwood IN

It’s hard to discern because the operation was so new that the owners had not yet mounted permanent sign to the building.  But those large storefront windows at the corner of the first floor do indeed contain a tenant.  The presence of Runway 19 Coffee Company makes The Hangar at Emerson Pointe a mixed-use infill building—a condition that is extremely difficult to pull off in a world of single-use Euclidean zoning, which is the dominant classification system in Greenwood and most other municipalities.  Commercial, residential, industrial, agricultural…all distinct and never the twain shall meet, at least according to the “separation of uses” that legitimized zoning through a Supreme Court decision regarding the City of Euclid, Ohio way back in 1926.  But, in this case, the residential development has a coffee shop in it, open to the general public.  Two uses under one roof.

According to the City of Greenwood Zoning Map, the southeast and southwest corners of the County Line/Emerson intersection (the two sides that fall within Greenwood city limits and not Indianapolis) are zoned IC (Interstate Commerce District).  This district, according to the zoning ordinance, intends to “contain a mix of commercial, office, recreation and entertainment uses that reflect the regional importance of the area”.  The only parts of Greenwood using the IC classification are the lands immediately west of I-65 where exit ramps provide access to intersecting collector and local roads: specifically County Line Road (featured here) and Main Street (about a mile to the south).  The IC district allows for residential (minimum unit size of 600 square feet), but there is little to no evidence that residential development has taken place in the district prior to the Hangar at Emerson Pointe.  And the developers pushed, potentially through a zoning variance, to build a mix of residential and retail under one roof (the Runway 19 Coffee Company tenant).  It’s minor in scale but unprecedented for this eminently suburban part of Greenwood.

I couldn’t resist a visit to Runway 19 Coffee Company, which, as is suggested by its name, has adopted an aviation theme with witty interior touches, like the choice of label for their immaculate restrooms.

Lavatory.  And storage lockers (“baggage claim”) for online pickup.

Runway 19 looks polished, well-financed, and admittedly has the feel of a chain coffee shop.  But at this point it’s the only location.  How and why did a startup coffee company choose a somewhat risky location tucked into a multifamily apartment complex?  It has a welcoming interior but it isn’t highly visible even with signage.  Simply put, people in Greenwood don’t expect to see coffee shops—or much of any business—operating out of the corner of a brand new apartment complex.  That’s a city thing.

Some background info on the development itself helps to clarify what I believe is, indeed, a loophole around Euclidean zoning regulations.  As the Daily Journal article I have cited indicates, The Hangar at Emerson Pointe is an effort from The Garrett Companies, a multifamily development company headquartered in Indianapolis, Denver, and right there in Greenwood.  And Runway 19 Coffee Company is the inaugural coffee shop from The Garrett Restaurant Group, an ancillary spin-off to the development arm that operates restaurants—without Garrett properties.  From what I can tell, Garrett Restaurant Group is much smaller and in its infancy: aside from Runway 19, it operates one other restaurant with locations in Colorado—three eateries total.

I have a sneaking suspicion Garrett Companies is capitalizing on a growing trend of creating vertically integrated mixed-use developments.  In short, the company is building multifamily residential developments with a small retail component, but rather than serving as a property manager for autonomous tenants, it is running the businesses itself, through its hospitality wing.  In this regard, the finance structure will depend less on leasing to separately licensed businesses and more about the building owner finding a small biz to operate within that retail space—one that’s a good fit with the apartment complex and the surrounding community.  Runway 19 might be the perfect fit.  (At the very least, I’d endorse the coffee.)

I can only speculate that this is The Garrett Company’s model because of what I witnessed about twelve miles to the north, in downtown Indianapolis.

The Bottleworks District development is many orders of magnitude greater than The Hangar at Emerson Pointe, encompassing multiple buildings—tantamount to a campus—with a combination of industrial adaptive re-use and new construction, all deliberately targeting a young urbanite clientele through residences, offices, restaurants, retail, hotel, and entertainment.  It is much more a deliberate mixed-use development, in keeping with the varying scales and building typologies that comprise an old Coca-Cola Bottling Plant on the northeast edge of Indy’s downtown, which spurred the various competing Bottleworks redevelopment proposals.  The redevelopment—currently in Phase Two—includes dozens of independently operating retail, restaurant, and office tenants, but one of the repurposed buildings features a coffee shop that gave me pause.

Blue Collar Coffee Company is not a nationally known brand, and its website shows only three locations: this one in downtown Indianapolis, and two in Wisconsin.  Meanwhile, Bottleworks District was the winning proposal among multiple real estate companies who submitted bids to redevelop the old Coca-Cola site back in the mid 2010s.  The City chose as its winner Hendricks Commercial Properties…based in Beloit, Wisconsin—home of one of the other three locations of Blue Collar Coffee.  And yes, Blue Collar Coffee is an operation under the parent Geronimo Hospitality Group, which routinely partners with Hendricks to help either secure tenants or operate restaurants/bars/hotels within the Geronimo parent company brand.  I haven’t been able to confirm if Geronimo and Hendricks share the same exec or board of directors, but the structure is certainly similar to the Garrett Company and Garrett Restaurant Group: a solidified partnership that helps ensure tenants for the retail space that align with the real estate development business model.

Greenwood may have granted a zoning variance to support the inclusion of a retail tenant in an otherwise purely residential development, as seen in The Hangar at Emerson Pointe.  But it likely wasn’t necessary, hence the loophole.  As nationally known shopping mall management companies like Simon Property Group purchase and rescue floundering old brands like Aéropostale, why shouldn’t real estate developers cut their teeth in the restaurant management biz, thereby ensuring a tenant for their first-floor retail?  I expect will see more operations like this in the years ahead, and maybe a second location for Runway 19 Coffee Company—probably in a multifamily apartment building in Denver.  Or downtown Indianapolis…only to compete with Blue Collar Coffee Company.  Adam Smith’s invisible hand raises a steaming mug of joe.

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19 thoughts on “The Hangar: mixed-use apartments should be everywhere. Why, then, do they routinely depend on loopholes?

  1. Chris B

    While Hangar is the first apartment complex on the old airport land in Greenwood, there is a recent one (opened around the time of the pandemic) on the Indy side of County Line under the airport flight path. I think it was also ex-airport land.

    Next door to Costco and a suburban retail outlot drive-thru agglomeration. 😀

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Are you talking about the Magnolia Springs development, just north of the healthcare center? That seems to have started construction around 2019? The only other option I can think of (next door to Costco) is the Timbers Apartments, but they’ve been around since the mid 2010s, and the land was forested before that, so it’s not likely part of the flight path. The suburban outlet agglomeration you’re talking about must be the one-two-three auto-friendly combo of AutoZone, Valvoline, and 7 Brew Coffee.

      It’ll be another three years before I can replicate that top-most photo. And it’ll only happen when I’m not trying.

      Reply
      1. Chris B

        Yes on Magnolia Springs. just north of the field with the airport landing lights east of Costco (which is also behind the location of your favorite migrating Kroger).

        And there’s a Costco Gas Station in addition to the oil change, auto parts, and drive-thru coffee trifecta.

        Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Yes!!! A lot like that. They probably had more parking lot than they needed, since Glendale ain’t what it used to be. And it’s a good area for meeting housing demand. It may not be a scenic walk, but people in those apartments can still easily walk to the shops at Glendale.

      Reply
      1. Chris B

        WAY more parking lot than necessary, even back in the glory days of malls in the 80s. Folks on the northside used to take kids there to practice driving, particularly on snow and ice in the winter because it was seldom plowed.

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          This may capture the next trend in infill. I’ve seen a few interesting examples in auto-oriented areas, including some where hotels were wedged into spots that as recently as the 2000s would have been unthinkable. Unless it generates such bad traffic or stormwater management issues, I see this overall as a win: more efficient use of the land and densification that, might like The Hangar, allows some walkability through proximity, even if it’s not a pedestrian friendly setting.

          Reply
          1. Chris B

            Another such setting is the former Greenwood middle school conversion between Madison and Greenwood Meridian St. north of the Smith Valley/Madison/US31 roundabout/clusterfck. About as pedestrian-hostile as a place can be.

            Reply
            1. AmericanDirt Post author

              I know it all too well, because I’ve run around there on the rare times I’m in the area. At least it has sidewalks! To be fair, north of Smith Valley is really still Old Town Greenwood and is quite walkable (at least by the standards of that area), but south of Smith Valley is pretty abysmal.

              I never understood the closure of that elementary school, given that it wasn’t that old (probably 1960s construction) and was conveniently located in a growing suburb. Or did the School District sell it to that one church that was booming until about 5-6 years ago, when it experienced some sort of crisis, attendance plunged, and now it leases out space at the Baxter YMCA? Was it the City that sold the land (when the church was still a tenant) or did the church own it at that time?

              Reply
              1. Chris B

                Greenwood built a new middle school at the very western edge of its district (where there were still open fields), next to the Sycamore Springs Municipal Water Park. The old school between Meridian/Madison became surplus and they transferred it in some way to the City or its redevelopment commission, which then preserved the gym as a municipal “fieldhouse” and sold off the remaining land for the apartments.
                And you’re right…it is somewhat walkable. There are at least two good places to eat within a moderate (for Indianapolis) walk from the apartments: Revery and Jockamo Pizza. Plus two brewery taprooms and a homegrown outdoor ice cream stand. And a library, plus a huge municipal park complex. But heaven help the resident who wants to venture on foot across Smith Valley to the drycleaner, Harbor Freight, Jack’s Pizza, liquor store, or (natch) Dollar Tree.

                Reply
                1. AmericanDirt Post author

                  Regarding the fieldhouse, did they preserve the structural support and completely change the skin to the old building? There’s that slick new “Greenwood Fieldhouse” on the site, but it’s so different that it’s hard for me to tell if it’s new construction. Perhaps I’m confusing things, but I’d imagine that’s where the church used to hold its services.

                  At any rate, once all those multifamily buildings will complete, that will add a fair amount of density to the Old Town area–hopefully enough to restimulate interest in the development of the southwest corner of the intersection of Madison and Main. I never learned exactly why that infill proposal stalled.

                  Reply
                  1. Chris B

                    SW corner of Madison and Main is the municipal building parking lot (the old bank structure to the south is now “City Hall”) and after hours it also serves all the old storefront businesses on the other three corners that lack parking (Revery, the beer halls, and the catering venue). I think there would be a lot of pushback against any redevelopment of that surface lot that did not include a garage.

                    Reply
                  2. Chris B

                    And yes, the “Fieldhouse” is just the re-skinned middle school gym structure. GIS aerial photography confirms that it was expanded along the east and west sides slightly and to the north significantly.

                    Reply
    2. Rochelle Malone Allen

      Yes 😂 my regular customers come very day to get groceries but they rent is way more then my house payment 😯

      Reply
  2. Dena Eben Kernish

    I get *architectural warm fuzzies* from adaptive reuse in an old building, e.g. Teller’s restaurant in Cinci, where one can eat inside the former bank vault, and conceptual reuse with a new structure, as in your report of Runway 19’s decor.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Love the repurposed old bank buildings. My first exposure was an upscale restaurant in downtown Alexandria, LA and they did an amazing job. And it’s trickier to pull off than we might think. The goal is usually to minimize changes to the exterior (which is what makes them so distinctive), but if the interior walls are also thick or securitized, the mods are obviously expensive. And I imagine they are pricey to heat/cool, which is why many of them eventually go vacant, even if they are quite secure. (In 2024, we have other means of keeping things safe than just thick walls…and besides, how many banks even keep all that much paper money on hand?) This is, so far, the closest I have ever come to the subject on my blog: https://dirtamericana.com/2022/09/corner-commercial-lots-banks-geneva/

      The aviation themes were a nice touch at this particular coffee shop, and I wish I had photographed more of them. Kind of evoked the Art Deco/Amelia Earhart/Golden Age of Aviation days…which is much more interesting than trying to mimic the interior of a contemporary airport.

      Reply

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