Organizers unveil $3 million tax plan to fund downtown improvements

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – If downtown Indianapolis is the crown jewel of Marion County, perhaps even Indiana, it requires expensive upkeep and planning to keep the shine sparkling.

Downtown Indianapolis Inc., the voluntary trade organization representing business interests and commercial property owners in the city’s core, unveiled its proposal for an Economic Improvement District to fund infrastructure maintenance, development and marketing strategies.

“It’s the right thing for the businesses and residents who are living downtown and, because of our constrained budget, there’s sort of a limit on the types of things we can do,” said City-County Councilman Vop Osili who represents downtown. “With the growth of downtown and the desire by the businesses and the residents to see more beautification, more enhancements, it’s something that the city itself does not have the means to do.”

DII is mailing petition ballots to 1,170 residential and commercial property owners in the Mile Square to determine if they support an EID tax intended to raise $3 million a year for beautification, maintenance, enhancements and planning that city budgets will not fund.

Residential property owners would be taxed $100 per year with large commercial property landlords paying a vast majority of the proposed levy.

In a briefing to announce the petition release, DII President Sherry Seiwert said EID funding would support more than a dozen street ambassadors tasked with monitoring maintenance of downtown streets, sidewalks and amenities as well as engaging the public.

Seiwert said the EID would focus on finding innovative approaches to addressing downtown’s homeless and panhandling issues by working with current providers and funding services and transportation for individuals who populate street corners asking for money or sleep under overpasses.

“I think over time you’ll see improvements to the sidewalks and the related infrastructure,” said developer and downtown resident Dennis Dye who is chairman of the EID Advisory Council. “Things are okay now but they are deteriorating more quickly than what we would like to recognize. You’ll see improvements to that.

“From an economic improvement perspective you’ll see data driven activity where when new employers want to consider Indianapolis or new developers want to consider Indianapolis you’ll see data on what’s happening in the city and where it’s going so it’ll be easier to attract not only new employers but new retailer residents to downtown.”

Dye cites empty storefronts and properties that could benefit from a unified marketing and branding strategy.

DII has proposed providing Wi-Fi services centered on Monument Circle, public toilets, enhanced green space for children and pets, bike paths and racks, and improved signage for visitors.

Supporters predict that an EID representing residents and large commercial property owners would speak with a unified voice in lobbying city agencies and other entities to lend more financial support to downtown improvements.

State statute prohibits the city from reducing its funding to downtown spending because of the EID.

Mayor Joe Hogsett and council members said they want to see support well above the 51% threshold by property owners before approving the EID.

DII expects to collect petition ballots during the last quarter of the year to present the proposal, if approved, to the council in early 2018.

Click here for more information on the proposed Economic Improvement District.

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