INDIANAPOLIS — Slipped into the State’s biennial budget passed last month, without public comment, was enabling legislation to permit a special taxing district aimed at downtown Indianapolis property owners in order to raise funds to maintain the heart of the city.

The Economic Enhancement District would assess a special levy from residential, commercial and other property owners downtown in order to fund public safety improvements, cleaning operations, better signage and services to address issues raised by persons without permanent shelter.

”This Economic Enhancement District would apply to the Mile Square which we know is the fastest growing neighborhood in Indianapolis,” said State Senator Andrea Hunley who represents the 25,000 Indianapolis residents who make their homes downtown. ”It’s a benefit to be in an area that that is walkable and beautiful. It is a benefit to be in an area that is bustling with culture and life and I want people to really see it as a special benefits assessment.”

Public safety cameras, street ambassadors, improved marketing and public space beautification are some of the enhancements detailed in the enabling legislation.

The mechanism to establish the District was in a response to a State commitment to provide $20 million in funding for the construction of a low barrier shelter to serve the homeless in Indianapolis.

Mayor Joe Hogsett announced in the summer of 2021 that he was setting aside $12 million to build such a shelter while negotiators have sought State financial participation as its common knowledge that many persons without shelter in Indianapolis are from outside of Marion County.

”Obviously now that the State has stepped up to partner with us in this regard is significant,” said Hogsett. “I can’t thank the governor and the general assembly enough for including $20 million in the budget. When you combine that with moneys that we’ve already commitment, I think that we’ll have a state-of-the-art low barrier shelter which will not only serve in an emergency immediate capacity but ultimately will allow our city to move closer toward a long term solution which includes housing first, supportive housing and wraparound social services that will keep currently unsheltered people with a new housing unit.”

”The City was looking for additional ways to help fund a low barrier shelter for Hoosiers experiencing homelessness and so we needed some creativity,” said Hunley. “We know that the State likes to know that there’s skin in the game from the municipality’s side and so this was a way to make sure that if the State was going to provide funding on one hand that the City would also have a mechanism to provide funding as well.”

Revenues raised by the EED would become available to help offset the proposed shelter’s operational costs.

The total amount of revenues and the formula for raising them have not yet been determined.

”It still won’t be enough so no matter what number is put out there,” said Hunley. “It still isn’t going to be enough to insure that the Mile Square has all of the amenities that we would like to offer including a low barrier shelter, including way finding to help make sure that when visitors come to the downtown area that its easier to navigate, we need additional funding to do support with safety and to support with IMPD and additional finding to support with beautification as well.”

The revenues and the spending would be overseen by an eight-member board appointed by State and local authorities with downtown property owners making up a majority of the Board.

Downtown Indy Inc. would be tasked with administrating the programs approved by the Board.

”Its great living downtown. It has its benefits and it comes with downtown living there’s always a little bit of downside to that. By and large it’s a positive experience,” said Joe Chapelle, President of the Homeowners Association at the Hudson and a downtown resident since 2009. ”I think our residents’ number one concern is public safety first. We are close to the Wheeler Mission, we have a lot of issues with that. Some of the property being developed down there allows for homeless people using it for shelter when its probably a trespass.”

The Hudson is located in the Market East District which is seeing former office buildings remodeled for residential tenants, the renovation of the City Market and construction of an apartment tower and the City accepting redevelopment plans for the former City Hall and its adjacent parking lot in the 200 block of North Alabama Street.

”Its sort of a self-help, help our neighborhood and the planned spend on it will be good and benefit us, the bulk of the dollars will be going to public safety I think,” said Chapelle who wants to see resident owners represented on the oversight board. ”Most people think of downtown as solely commercial or solely government and it really isn’t. There’s a very much a growing community of residents within the Mile Square. I think they need to have some representation on that board to address the unique problems or things of residency.”

Hunley said state government is a significant landholder in downtown Indianapolis with several parcels of property off the tax rolls.

”A large portion of the property that people come to visit is owned by the State and we also know that the City has been seeking additional funding sources and so this is a true acknowledgement that we have to be working in partnership between the City and the State.”

Hunley doesn’t expect the City County Council to take up the State’s offer to establish the taxing district until next year.

”I think no one likes to talk about taxes when an election is around the corner and so I doubt that prior to November decisions will be made.”

Hunley said that Indianapolis is the largest U.S. city without a special taxing district to support its downtown area.

Hogsett said the establishment of a downtown EED would provide a dedicated revenue stream to take over some of the expenses that a one-time City 2022 appropriation to DII paid for.

”The whole notion of an EED being in this year’s legislative package kind of happened overnight so I don’t exactly know the whys and wherefores of what arrangements and agreements have been made,” he said. “I do know that the $3.5 million in American Rescue Plan moneys that we made available to Downtown Indy were at all points meant to be temporary in nature. In other words, give them the kind of support that they need right now to help improve the resilience of downtown. We made it clear from the very outset that at the end of that $3.5 million they were gonna have to come up with their own funding mechanism. I think Downtown Indy and the Indy Chamber and other stakeholders are talking about that right now.”