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Mass Ave business owners split over proposed district tax

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Mass Ave business owners are divided over a proposed tax to pay for improvements throughout the cultural district in downtown Indianapolis.

Opponents have accused the advocates of rigging the proposal to ensure its passage, and they’re urging property owners to vote no on a petition that has yet to circulate.

The Riley Area Development Corp. and Mass Ave Merchants Association spearheaded the effort to create an economic improvement district, or EID, in which commercial property owners would be assessed a fee to pay for common benefits, such as streetscape improvements, maintenance and marketing.

The proposed rate is 0.15 percent of assessed value on commercial properties and half that for buildings owned by not-for-profits, such as the Athenaeum and Old National Center.

Cassie Stockamp, executive director of the Athenaeum Foundation and a member of the economic improvement district leadership committee, said the avenue needs a steady stream of income to stay competitive with other cultural districts. “Fountain Square, Georgia Street—we have to pay attention. We have to differentiate ourselves,” she said.

The EID leadership committee estimates that the fees would raise just under $100,000 a year. That figure could rise substantially with redevelopment of the Indianapolis Fire Department headquarters and former Coca-Cola bottling plant near the district’s northeast end. But the current proposal also would dissolve the EID after 10 years, Stockamp said.

The EID discussion has created a sharp divide among local business and property owners. One of the Athenaeum’s own tenants, Rathskeller Biergarten owner Dan McMichael, is strongly opposed. The Athenaeum’s leases would prevent the fee from being passed on to its tenants, but McMichael said his other properties, the Mayleeno Apartments and a parking lot, would be affected.

McMichael said an additional tax would make him reconsider plans to open another business on the avenue.

“This area’s done well on its own because of private investment,” he said, adding that he feels no threat from other restaurant and shopping districts. “I’ve watched the transition happen before my eyes. Mass Ave is one of the premier areas of the city.”

McMichael is one of 11 business and property owners who signed an opposition letter circulated last month that accuses Riley Area Development Corp. and consultant Schmidt Associates, also located on Massachusetts Avenue, of drafting the proposal to ensure its passage. Others who signed the letter include Forty-Five Degrees bar and restaurant owner Bill Pritt; Sherry and Tom Battista, whose retail and restaurant tenants include Best Chocolate in Town and R Bistro; and Three Mass Ave condominium developer Todd Maurer of Halakar Properties.  

The EID must clear two hurdles before it can be presented to the Indianapolis City-County Council. A majority of affected property owners must sign a petition agreeing to create the district, and those property owners must represent a majority of assessed value.

“RADC and Schmidt continually redraw the boundary of the district in order to reach that magical percentage,” the opposition letter states. “In a recent act of desperation, they have proposed to exclude most residential properties and include non-profit organizations. ... Their main reason for pursuing non-profits is to gain the assessed value of the Athenaeum Building and the Murat Center, both of which are owned by non-profit organizations and represent millions of dollars worth of assessed value.”

Schmidt Planner Corrie Meyer said the latest proposal isn’t necessarily assured of passing because it also needs approval from a majority of all affected property owners, regardless of the value of their land and buildings.

If the petition is successful, the City-County Council would be asked to create the EID, and the fees would be included in the 2014 property-tax billing cycle.

Stockamp said the EID leadership committee will hold a meeting with property owners May 8, and the proposal could change again based on their feedback. She said she’s not sure how the petition would fare if it circulated today.

“I think it’s really close right now,” she said.

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  • Fountian Square already a head with their EID
    Fountian Square already has an EID introduced to the council at the last council meeting Monday. The only difference is the assessed value in FS is less than that on Mass Ave.
  • Mass Ave
    When we use Mass Ave, we are talking about the designated arts and cultural district, not the street. When we refer to the street, we use Massachusetts Avenue. Mass Ave is the name used by the Cultural Development Commission.
  • Tiny little minds
    Indy is such a pathetically sad little place, where true believers with a third grade education believe they can brand neighborhoods into something cool. Fountain Square is the only neighborhood in this city worth a hoot. It's organic, it's a bit rough around the edges, it has not been themed. THAT'S WHAT MAKES IT COOL. I am so weary of the little thinkers who call the shots in this town. They are so hopelessly out positioned by bigger thinkers elsewhere. Time to move. Indy will never be anything but a wannabe.
  • Where is Mass Ave?
    If you ever have tried to use an on-line locator to get driving directions to Mass Ave in Indianapolis, you would find that it does not exist. I admit that Mass Ave and other literary shortcuts, being used by news and information sources is a pet peeve of mine. I understand that there is an ongoing attempt to brand the Massachusetts Avenue area as Mass Ave. However,I would hope that good journalism dictates that news stories first use the official street name and then somehow refer to the Mass Ave brand name. In that way you can help the effort to create the “brand” MASS Ave, but you will still won’t find it on a map unless it is one published by the tourism promoters. Using an address on Mass Ave will still not get your directions on MapQuest, Google or any other standard on-line or GPS direction source. The street is still Massachusetts Avenue. Likewise Fountain Square; it’s not “The Square.” Broad Ripple is not “Ripple.” It also irks me that sportscasters, who are trying to be with it, call Lucas Oil Stadium “The Luke.” You are not that hip. Using “The Luke” does a great disservice to Forrest Lucas and the millions of dollars he provides to the city and the Colts for the stadium naming rights. On that same theme, sportscasters and newscasters who refer to schools by initials, are not saving that much time. Not everyone knows what HSE stands for. I realize that this is the era of Twitter, but just would like to remind folks that not every one “tweets” or uses acronyms or literary and verbal shorthand to appear to be with it.
    • Come to Fountain Square
      Fountain Square doesn't need to further tax its small business owners to "differentiate" itself from other areas. We are already fresh and unique. We encourage current or prospective Mass Ave business owners to consider our vibrant and artistic community. It's the best place downtown.
      • low income housing projects
        DMX, sadly your facts a little off...there is not a lot of city investment in those low income housing projects that you are referencing...those projects were financed with equity from the sale of federal tax credits and perhaps bond financing or private mortgages or HUD insured mortgages. The city does not own those developments. Of course, you're against everything so it doesnt matter if you are correct or not.
        • Cricket
          Actually, let's make the tax 10% instead, so there's money left for cricket stadiums.
        • There is money
          I find it hard to believe the city cannot afford to improve the infrastructure in an area that generates so much income for the city, especially when they have all the money in the world to throw at low-income housing projects like expansion of the Barton Towers(Mass Ave and Michigan)
          • Isn't there a TIF?
            Why do they need this additional tax when the TIF expansion was approved?? Based on the previous use of the TIF as a slush fund for the general fund, I'm confident the downtown consolidated TIF has more than enough $ to pay for public infrastructure improvements.

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