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EDITORIAL: Downtown worth extra investment

December 2, 2017

Downtown is the linchpin of a regional economy, anchored by Indianapolis, that plays an outsized role in the vitality of the entire state. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep downtown on top of its game.

That’s why we support the concept, advocated by the not-for-profit Downtown Indy, of creating an economic improvement district, where property owners in the Mile Square would pay an extra fee for 10 years to raise about $30 million for improvements.

Creating the EID requires the support of 51 percent of downtown property owners, the support of owners representing at least 51 percent of assessed value in the district, and approval by the City-County Council. Downtown Indy began seeking support in September, and as of late November was short of those goals. The group said it would extend into the first quarter of next year its effort to gather signatures from property owners.

The EID has the backing of some big players and some iconic ones, including OneAmerica Financial Partners, St. Elmo Steak House, apartment owner TWG and Salesforce. On the fence still are apartment owners Buckingham and JC Hart, and Simon Property Group, which has its headquarters downtown and manages Circle Centre mall.

While we support creating an EID and applaud Downtown Indy’s championing of the effort, we understand the reluctance of some property owners to support it until they get a clearer explanation of how the money would be used.

It’s instructive, perhaps, that the only EID approved to date in Indianapolis is in Woodruff Place, the near-east-side neighborhood that created an EID in 2015 to preserve the historic elements that decorate the esplanades of its three main streets. Woodruff Place property owners approved the EID because they knew exactly what they were getting for their money.

Telling downtown property owners exactly what they’d be paying for is trickier, because downtown’s needs are more diverse. But Downtown Indy officials say property owners will set the priorities for spending.

In a cash-strapped city, there’s plenty that needs attention. From the bent and chipped decorative railings that surround planting beds to concrete sidewalks that are sometimes patched awkwardly with asphalt, it’s not hard to find examples of deterioration and substandard maintenance in the city’s most-visited area. No one is taking ownership of basic maintenance today; the EID would.

The money could also fund more trees, lighting and bike racks; enhanced public Wi-Fi; coordinated homeless outreach; more police patrols; and other things property owners have said they want.

Savvy downtown property owners keep their buildings well-maintained and pay for improvements, when needed, to stay competitive. It’s good for business and protects their investment. Downtown’s public domain is no different. Those who have the most direct stake in downtown’s success should step up and support the EID.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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