The owners of about 1,200 downtown properties soon can expect to receive petitions asking for them to financially support improvements to the Mile Square in what’s known as an enhanced services district.
The owners of commercial and residential properties in downtown's square-mile core will be able to weigh in on whether they want an annual fee added to their property tax bills. For residential properties owners, it would be a flat fee of $100. For commercial property owners, it would be one-eighth of 1 percent of assessed value.
The proposed funding mechanism is expected to raise $3 million annually for additional services and lifestyle features in the Mile Square, such as enhanced cleanup, improved police presence, public bathrooms and area-specific planning to better guide rules for the physical space. They would come on top of services already provided by the city.
“We see it as an opportunity to capture some funds and reinvest in a specific area,” said Catherine Esselman, director of real estate for advocacy group Downtown Indy. “We really think, with these funds that are raised, if property owners choose to enact it, that we can bring an enhanced level of service beyond what the city can provide.”
Cities across the nation already have created enhanced services districts, and state law allows for them in Indiana, Esselman said.
Esselman spoke about the need for such a downtown district on Thursday morning at IBJ’s annual Commercial Real Estate & Construction Power Breakfast, at the JW Marriott.
For the petition for the district to proceed to the City-County Council, it needs to meet two thresholds: more than half, or 51 percent, of downtown property owners within the Mile Square, and enough owners to represent at least 51 percent of the area’s entire assessed value,.
If passed, the fee would be assessed to about 1,200 parcels—about 700 residential and 500 commercial properties.
The $3 million raised annually would be used to increase safety efforts, such as hiring more police officers to patrol downtown, in addition to homeless outreach. It also would support initiatives to enhance the downtown public experience and for long-range planning goals, Esselman said.
Attempts to enhance the public experience might also include adding Wi-Fi and public restrooms in the downtown area, and improving streetscapes and retail offerings.
“We’re working with the city now for a retail strategy,” she said. “We have 300,000 square feet of retail space coming online [downtown]. I think there are a lot of gaps in the market.”
The fee would be assessed for 10 years before it would come up for a vote again. Opportunities for the public to provide input will be available, Esselman said.
Downtown Indy is drafting the petition and spearheading the effort, as the not-for-profit ups its visibility by getting more involved in policy issues and moving its office in Salesforce Tower closer to street level.
The group is preparing to move from the 19th floor in Salesforce Tower to the building’s second level, above the breakfast and lunch spot Yolk, in hopes of giving the organization more exposure.
The 5,200-square-foot space fronts Pennsylvania and Ohio streets.
With the move, Downtown Indy will increase its current space usage by about 600 feet. The second-floor office will be more open to encourage collaboration among its 15 employees, many of whom now work in traditional cubicles now.
The second-floor space also will be more convenient for visitors to Downtown Indy and board members who now must pass through a security system before reaching the elevators to the 19th floor. Tower owner Hertz Investment Group installed the system as part of building upgrades related to the arrival of Salesforce.
Downtown Indy hopes to relocate by Nov. 1.