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Fishers looking to fund development with tax hike

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The clock is ticking on Fishers’ proposal to impose a 1-percent food-and-beverage tax to fund economic development in the fast-growing suburb.

State lawmakers agreed earlier this year to allow the town to collect the extra penny as it works to reinvent its uninspiring downtown, but officials must pull the trigger on the tax hike by Dec. 31.

Town Council President John Weingardt said it’s far from a done deal, even though local leaders asked the Legislature to authorize the move.

“It is important that we as a council step back and let the public tell us what they want,” he said. “We still have to represent our constituents.”
fishers_table.gif To that end, two public hearings are scheduled before the council’s December vote: Residents and business owners can share their thoughts Nov. 12 at a special meeting or Nov. 18 during a regular council confab. All correspondence and phone messages also will be shared with members.

Although raising taxes is rarely a popular idea, Fishers is embarking on an ambitious—and expensive—downtown redevelopment plan intended to spur commercial investment in the community.

The town turned over publicly owned land and agreed to pay for a parking garage at The Depot, a $42 million mixed-use project now being built along 116th Street, for example, and its redevelopment commission has been buying and bundling private property to make it more attractive to developers.

Officials also are working on several other projects expected to bring businesses (and their employees) to the town center, but no details have been made public during the talks.

“It’s a timing issue. These deals run at their own speed,” said Weingardt, who told IBJ in May that the tax-hike might be difficult to approve without “an economic development deal to hang it on.”

An announcement could come soon. The town’s Economic Development Commission and Redevelopment Commission each held executive sessions Nov. 5, justifying the closed meetings because they were negotiating with corporate prospects and discussing real estate strategy.

The town’s engineering department, meanwhile, is working on plans for no fewer than six downtown road projects next year to support The Depot and “other pending development projects,” according to a council action form submitted by Engineering Director Jeff Hill.

At their Nov. 4 meeting, councilors approved spending $610,000 to engage an outside consultant to help get the projects ready for bid.

Among the plans: extending Fishers Corner Boulevard west from Lantern Road to Municipal Drive—including a new crossing over the Nickel Plate railroad tracks—widening and improving Lantern from 116th to Commercial Drive, and reconfiguring that intersection to accommodate a relocated Technology Drive and entrance to Northeast Commerce Park.

Those projects will continue regardless of the council’s decision on the food-and-beverage tax, Weingardt said, but having new sources of revenue could help the town maintain momentum over the long haul.

“This is a 10- to 20-year journey we’re talking about here,” he said. If the tax doesn’t pass, “we’ll keep moving forward, just maybe a little slower.”

Freshman Councilor Renee Cox thinks there are other ways to keep the economic development engine running, and she already has taken a public stand against the proposal.

“Taxing should not be a fiscal conservative’s solution,” she wrote in an email.

The state legislation requires that Fishers use any proceeds from the tax to lower property taxes or support economic development.

It’s not a huge sum in a town with an $81 million annual budget, but it adds up. And other communities in the northern suburbs have been collecting a 1-percent food-and-beverage tax for eight years, ever since a funding deal for the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis gave them the chance.

Suburbs that adopted the tax at the time—Carmel, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville—can use the money for any public purpose.

Six of the so-called doughnut counties around Indianapolis also authorized a 1-percent tax; they must split the proceeds with the Marion County Capital Improvement Board, which owns the stadium.

The fact that Fishers isn’t pioneering the idea of food-and-beverage tax in Hamilton County could make its proposal more palatable.

“Visitors will not notice it, because they’re used to it,” said Brenda Myers, executive director of the Hamilton County Convention & Visitors Bureau and a resident of Fishers.•

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  1. If I were a developer I would be looking at the Fountain Square and Fletcher Place neighborhoods instead of Broad Ripple. I would avoid the dysfunctional BRVA with all of their headaches. It's like deciding between a Blackberry or an iPhone 5s smartphone. BR is greatly in need of updates. It has become stale and outdated. Whereas Fountain Square, Fletcher Place and Mass Ave have become the "new" Broad Ripples. Every time I see people on the strip in BR on the weekend I want to ask them, "How is it you are not familiar with Fountain Square or Mass Ave? You have choices and you choose BR?" Long vacant storefronts like the old Scholar's Inn Bake House and ZA, both on prominent corners, hurt the village's image. Many business on the strip could use updated facades. Cigarette butt covered sidewalks and graffiti covered walls don't help either. The whole strip just looks like it needs to be power washed. I know there is more to the BRV than the 700-1100 blocks of Broad Ripple Ave, but that is what people see when they think of BR. It will always be a nice place live, but is quickly becoming a not-so-nice place to visit.

  2. I sure hope so and would gladly join a law suit against them. They flat out rob people and their little punk scam artist telephone losers actually enjoy it. I would love to run into one of them some day!!

  3. Biggest scam ever!! Took 307 out of my bank ac count. Never received a single call! They prey on new small business and flat out rob them! Do not sign up with these thieves. I filed a complaint with the ftc. I suggest doing the same ic they robbed you too.

  4. Woohoo! We're #200!!! Absolutely disgusting. Bring on the congestion. Indianapolis NEEDS it.

  5. So Westfield invested about $30M in developing Grand Park and attendance to date is good enough that local hotel can't meet the demand. Carmel invested $180M in the Palladium - which generates zero hotel demand for its casino acts. Which Mayor made the better decision?

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