The Crane gang

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Carmel trio transforms blight to bling

From broken glass to Bacardi, from rehabilitation to Rolling Stone.

That’s the story of The Crane Bay, downtown Indianapolis’ newest and most unique event venue. Three Carmel men have transformed what was once a stove factory and locomotive engine repair facility into an edgy, versatile space that sits in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium – but in the shadow of no other room of its kind.

“We were having meetings downtown last couple years at the Hard Rock Cafe,” said Gary Padjen, president and founder of The Crane Bay, former Baltimore and Indianapolis Colt and vice president of the NFL Alumni Association. “A lot of guys came (to the Alumni meetings), and we ran out of room. We wanted to find a little frat house to make our own.”

Padjen ended up with a lot more than a little frat house. In August 2011, he was shown a vacant building at 551 W. Merrill St., just blocks west of Indianapolis’ thriving downtown. If it had potential, Padjen failed to see it at first.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?!’” remembered Padjen. “There was oil and grease on the floor, windows broken out, birds living inside. It was unbelievable. I just wanted a cleaned up space with bathrooms. But, the Super Bowl was coming, the Big Ten (football) Championship Game was coming, and it had all this parking…”

What happened next?

“Some investors and myself spent almost a million bucks.”

That was the beginning, but what’s transpired since is impressive. The Crane Bay hosted the Rolling Stone Bacardi Bash last Feb. 4, held the night before Super Bowl XLVI, which was a virtual who’s-who of the entertainment and athletic worlds. The 23,000 square-foot space has yet been a work in progress since earning that distinction, with the addition of intelligent lighting, a kitchen and a patio that further extends usable square footage and separates the venue from any other in the city.

Padjen has had help on the journey from run down to resplendent, namely in fellow Carmelites Jack Bayt and T.K. Nelson. Bayt was the founder of Carmel-based Crystal Catering, and now is a real estate investor. He functions as oversight at The Crane Bay, while Nelson, a former Bayt employee, has restarted once-dormant Crystal and operates out of three locations – Carmel’s The Fountains, The Sanctuary in Zionsville and Padjen’s place.

“I have a lot of real estate I’m involved with, but I didn’t want to be in the catering business again,” Bayt said. “Those are a lot of long hours and nights. But I told T.K. if he could put together a team, I had a second facility to move him into – with Gary’s deal and The Fountains, he’s had a great start.”

For Bayt, who has interests in a lot of attractive addresses in the area, a reverence for what he’s a part of speaks volumes.

“It’s an urban, edgy venue,” he said. “There’s nothing like this, and being located right across the street from the stadium is great for convention business. It’s designed to interact as indoor /outdoor space, and that’s unique because no one has that downtown. Flex space is the key, and the different events we can put on really displays the versatility. And parking downtown in unheard of – this facility has plenty of it.”

“It’s about presentation; the lighting we have in here can affect the look of the building,” added Nelson. “We have a house sound system in here now, a lot of kitchen space and a 16×24 stage, great size. We fit almost any demand. It is a very functional space.”

The Crane Bay is certainly a story in and of itself, but its crew has its own stories to tell. For Nelson, he was a Crystal employee under Bayt and found himself selling food for a living when an opportunity arose to re-start Crystal after its 1995 sale to Marsh Supermarkets, and its 2007 dissolution.

“It was special to have the name Crystal re-launch because that was the name I helped build along with T.K.,” said Bayt. “To see it go was a shame but he had bugged me and bugged me to restart it – I didn’t want it to come back unless there was a good team to do it. (When the chance arose), I called him and he said, ‘I thought you were never going to do anything, I just took a new job.’ I told him he’d better quit.”

Padjen has his own yarn to spin. It revolves around the 1984 move to Indianapolis from Baltimore by the Colts, and the godfather of his two sons: Jim Irsay.

“In 1981, we’d see this young guy sneaking through the locker room, going to lift weights,” he said. “No one knew who he was, until one day someone said it was the owner’s (Robert Irsay) son. We ended up becoming friends and his dad was shopping the team around. He’d call me up for two straight years and tell me we were going to Jacksonville or Tennessee or Arizona – it always fell through.

“The night he told me Indianapolis was a done deal, I didn’t believe him. I lived right across from the team headquarters, so he told me to look out my window. There were the Mayflower trucks. I was the only player who knew, and I ended up leading the trucks to Indy in my Ford Bronco.”

A great tale for sure, on par with the one he’ll eventually tell about The Crane Bay.

 

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