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Fountain Square, Fletcher Place businesses weigh special tax to fund safety, upkeep

September 19, 2017
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The Indianapolis Cultural Trail increases Fountain Square’s walkability. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Business leaders in Fountain Square and Fletcher Place are seeking to establish what’s known as an economic improvement district—in essence, creating a targeted tax to support improvements for the up-and-coming neighborhoods along Virginia Avenue southeast of downtown.

Their effort is similar to a charge being led by the not-for-profit organization Downtown Indy to create an EID in the Mile Square, which would raise $3 million annually for additional services in downtown's core.

The much smaller Virginia Avenue endeavor is expected to raise just $83,000 annually and would only tax business owners. That's different from the Downtown Indy EID strategy, which proposes to levy a $100 flat fee for residents in the Mile Square in addition to charging commercial property owners one-eighth of 1 percent of their assessed value.

One of the twists with these EIDs is that constituents in the districts vote on whether they'll be established. Business owners in the proposed area southeast of downtown would pay $7.75 per linear foot—or the width of their parcels. Not-for-profits exempt from property taxes would pay $5.75 per linear foot.

The district would be called the Greater Virginia Avenue Corridor and include properties on the titular thoroughfare from East Street down to Shelby Street in the heart of the neighborhood. Property owners on Shelby Street also would be affected, from Pleasant Street on the north to Interstate 65 to the south. On an eastern spoke, the district would run on Prospect Street from Shelby to Spruce streets.

The number of property owners in the area who would be affected by the fee totals 98, who overall own 146 parcels representing $11 million in total assessed value, said Kelli Mirgeaux, a Fountain Square resident. She’s a consultant who’s been hired by the Central Indiana Community Foundation to guide the process.

“We’ve seen a lot of attention here in this commercial corridor,” she said. “The Cultural Trail has had a phenomenal economic impact on our area. There has to be some responsibility to maintain and continue that growth.”

For the petition for the district to proceed to the City-County Council, the vote needs to meet two thresholds: more than half, or 51 percent, of property owners within the area, and enough owners to represent at least 51 percent of its entire assessed value.

The latter requirement has already been met, Mirgeaux said.

“We’re looking very good,” she said. “You’re not ever going to get 100 percent. It’d be wonderful if you did, but some of the property owners may not be familiar with the area; some might not be connected to the community.”

Developer Craig Von Deylen, whose properties in the district include the Murphy Arts Center and The Hinge apartment development, is among the supporters.

“The concept is actually a good idea,” he said. “We can use it for what we think is important as opposed to what the city thinks is important.”

Needs have been divided into three categories: development; maintenance; and safety.

Under the rubric of development, EID funds could support the installation of public art and bike racks, in addition to funding the launch of a marketing campaign to promote the Greater Virginia Avenue Corridor.

Maintenance initiatives might include trash removal and street sweeping, landscaping, snow and graffiti removal, and upkeep of the Fountain Square Plaza. And funds earmarked for safety could be used to provide more security at events within the district.

Mirgeaux was hired by CICF in June 2016 and spent the next eight months planning outreach among business and property owners. The first public meeting was held in February, and she’s now collecting signatures, with hopes of presenting them to the council by the end of the year.

Six board members initially will oversee disbursement of district assessments. The district is set to last 15 years.

They are: Trinity Hart, Deylen Realty Inc. principal; Terri Garcia, Southeast Community Services Inc. executive director; Paul Smith, Southeast Neighborhood Development Inc. president; property owners Tom Battista and Ed Battista (Bluebeard and Milktooth); and Jake Dietrich, Milhaus Development LLC director of development.

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