Council committee OKs up to $7M in bonds for downtown Block 20 project

The City-County Council's Metropolitan and  Economic Development committee on Monday approved a request for up to $7 million in developer-backed bonds for a pair of downtown real estate projects near the Athenaeum in the Mass Ave Arts District.

The approval sends the two-site Block 20 project to the full City-County Council, which is expected to consider the project at its May 13 meeting.

Block 20 consists of developments on two sites: a four-story mixed-use complex and parking garage directly east of the historic Athenaeum building and an office and retail redevelopment about two blocks away, at 602 N. Park Ave.

The project at 428 N. East St., next to the Athenaeum, would include at least 76 apartment units along with 6,000 square feet of retail space and a 255-space parking garage. A large portion of the retail space is expected to house a restaurant. The apartments would range from 450 square feet to 1,200 square feet each with rents from about $1,000 to $2,500 per month.

The Park Avenue project involves construction of a building with 40,000 square feet of high-end office space and 6,500 square feet of retail, along with renovations to a neighboring historic building that adds another 10,800 square feet of retail space.

The combined cost of the projects has been estimated at $40 million. If approved, the bonds would be repaid through property taxes generated by the projects, with Jacobs on the hook if there’s a shortfall.

The vote came days after the project and its developer, Chase Development principal Dan Jacobs, faced a last-ditch derailment effort by a small group of people opposed to the development.

Jim Gilday, attorney at Gilday and Associates, alleged Jacobs lacked the appropriate temperament to receive taxpayer funds.

Gilday, who has represented project remonstrators, also sent a letter to members of the committee requesting they reject Jacobs’ proposal on those grounds.

During Monday’s meeting, committee chair Maggie Lewis, D-District 10, did not allow Gilday, Jacobs and committee members to directly discuss the allegations.

“I recognize it’s a very emotional project, but I do not want to have that conversation here,” she said to Gilday, cutting short his efforts to broach the matter during the public comment period. She also asked Jacobs not to discuss the matter when he was making his presentation to the committee.

“I feel that as the chair of the committee, it is my job and responsibility to assure there’s a level of decorum in our meetings,” Maggie Lewis told IBJ afterward. “Our role is to vote on the proposals based on their merits, and I had absolutely no interest in entertaining personal attacks.”

Lewis confirmed she and other members of the committee read the emails and other documents presented by Gilday, but said they “had no desire to have that conversation.”

The development has been in the works since at least 2016, but has encountered several hurdles in the years since, resulting in a lengthy legal battle that reached the Indiana Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case in October.

“It’s been a very long, tough road to get here … but we’re here to move forward,” Jacobs told the committee. He declined comment to IBJ after his bond request was approved, citing remaining steps in the approval process.

The Block 20 name is derived from that block’s position on Indianapolis’ original plat, at the southeast corner of New Jersey and Michigan streets.

The project could improve at least three roadways and alleys that are in poor shape. Jacobs said.

City officials have championed developer-backed bonds in recent years because they put developers on the hook if taxes generated by their projects don't cover all of the bond payments.

The city would receive 20% of tax revenue over the 25-year life of the bonds, with the rest going toward servicing the bonds. After that, all tax revenue would be collected by the city.

Jacobs has not indicated when he expects construction to begin on the project.

The committee vote to approve the bonds was 11-0, with Councilor Jason Holiday abstaining due to a potential conflict of interest.

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