BY JONATHAN MATTHES ON JUNE 22, 2021
Lawrence’s first luxury apartment complex, The Otis at Fort Ben, is open.
Local dignitaries and developers gathered June 10 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the project, which includes 261 apartments in three buildings at 9310 Otis Ave.
“A couple years ago, when I was first introduced to this project and I saw it on paper for the first time, I was taken aback. I hadn’t seen anything quite like this coming into the City of Lawrence in my lifetime,” Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier said at the grand opening. “And I’ve lived here since 1964.”
The $31 million development was built by Indianapolis-based Cityscape Residential and will be managed by PRAXM Management. Cityscape Residential founder and managing partner James Thomas was drawn to the project for a variety of reasons and incorporated multiuse elements into the development. The Otis has a pool, a Fort Ben-themed Instagram photo wall, conference room space, fitness centers, grilling pits with an herbal wall, a pet spa and a bicycle repair station.
The Otis at Fort Ben is among the newest complements to the Fort Benjamin Harrison redevelopment area, which includes restaurants, a state park, cultural campus and the future Fort Ben branch of the Indianapolis Public Library nearby.
‘It’s better than I imagined’
“None of those amenities were in Carmel when we started there 20 years ago, but you could see the raw pieces, and that felt a lot like what (Lawrence) will be. We said, ‘That looks like a Cityscape community,’” Thomas said. “Honestly, it’s so crisp, it’s better than I imagined. That sounds cheesy but it’s true.”
Cityscape was founded by Thomas in 2013. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Thomas was the executive vice president of AMLI Residential Properties Trust. During his tenure, the firm created some of the earlier redevelopments in Carmel, like the building that houses Muldoon’s and Bazbeaux Pizza along West Main Street and the veterans reflecting pond.
“At the time, there was no mixed-use there, just us. The Monon Trail wasn’t even there yet,” Thomas said. “We love walkable, multi-use environments. It doesn’t have to be multiuse buildings, but stuff is near each other, and that’s what we saw here.”
Another aspect that appealed to Thomas — and laid the foundation for The Otis to be built — was what he called “historical fabric.” The military history of the Fort Ben area was incorporated into the design. Many of the walls in the main lobby of Building 1 are painted in hues of Army greens and beige. Scaling one of the walls inside the lobby are a dozen green, gold and beige female mountain climber figurines. Keeping with the military theme, the figurines were originally going to be toy soldiers, but a late change switched out the characters.
“People still call them army men, though,” said Jennifer Sewell, a development associate at Cityscape. “I just keep telling them, ‘No, they’re mountain climbers.’”
On the same page
Per the scope of the project, Cityscape did not have to envision Lawrence with a concept like The Otis. The city and the Fort Ben Reuse Authority already had a similar idea in place for the land that Cityscape developed.
“Having a partner like the Fort Ben Reuse Authority and the City of Lawrence, who ultimately share the same constructive vision, is very important, too. That way, everyone is working together for the same outcome,” said Derrick Cranor, a partner at Cityscape.
When the Army decommissioned Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1995, the Fort Ben Reuse Authority was established to chart a future for the area. The master plan was created in 2006, and in the original drawings a red-tinted map marked the area where The Otis would eventually be built as a site for a village center. According to the initial plan, a village center would “create a place where pedestrian activity is encouraged and comfortable, where automobiles are welcome yet must share the public realm, and a place where the community of Lawrence can come together in a unique environment.”
Jeff Vest, a longtime Lawrence resident and president of the Reuse Authority board, applauds the finished product.
“When we started out, and none of this was here, I never could have imagined something like this,” Vest said during the grand-opening ceremony.
From left, Jim Thomas, Jennifer Sewell and Derrick Cranor beside the Instagram Wall along Otis Avenue. The main building of the Otis is in the background. (photos by Jonathan Matthes)
Looking up from the corner of Otis Avenue and Wheeler Road at the The Otis at Fort Ben.
The lobby inside Building 1 is called The Leasing and Amenities Center. It’s a common space where residents can relax. “Residents can get out of their units and take a break from the day,” Sewell said. Some of the things that can be found inside the space is a putting green, shuffleboard, a lounging area and two fitness centers, one standard with weight training equipment and the other on-demand fitness classes.
The Otis pool, 3.5 feet all the way around with some lounging chairs in a couple shallow shelf areas, is outside the Leasing and Amenities Center. It is also a saltwater pool. “There’s a saltwater swimming pool in the City of Lawrence, now think about that,” Collier said to laughs from the gathered crowd.
Some of the third-floor rooms have wrap-around balconies that offer views like this one over the Fort Ben area.
Rooms inside The Otis can be rented for between $1,010 to $2,050 a month.
One of the more unique features inside The Otis at Fort Ben is a gift-wrapping station inside the Leasing and Amenities Center. “It’s for any last-minute gifts that you need to wrap,” Sewell said. It is fully stocked.