Officials plan streetcar comeback

February 5, 2008

Some top civic leaders have quietly created a not-for-profit organization to study and build a streetcar "circulator" system downtown.

Downtown Indianapolis Streetcar Corp. would bring the electric vehicles to the streets for the first time since the 1950s.

Notable members of the group include Bob Bedell, former president of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, and Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce President Roland Dorson.

The group envisions a fleet of streetcars powered by overhead wires that connects to other transit vehicles, such as IndyGo buses or to a rapid transit line previously proposed between downtown and Noblesville.

"Today, the trend for both citizens and businesses is to move back downtown," according to the group's promotional material.

Not only can a well-planned streetcar system support such increased density in a central business district - it can help bring it about," says the material, which was obtained by IBJ.

The group points to streetcar systems such as one that opened in Portland, Ore., in 2001. "There is currently about $2.5 billion of new construction around these streetcar lines. There are some very strong parallels between the Portland situation and Indianapolis."

A cost estimate was not provided, although the group says it expects a blend of public and private financing will be required. It's not clear how such an idea will be received by a city suffering budget woes and still howling over property tax increases.

Downtown Indianapolis Streetcar Corp. said it has tapped as a consultant a nationally recognized expert in streetcar systems, Jim Graebner, who grew up in Indianapolis and now lives in the Denver area.

Chairing the group's board is Tom Hoback, president of Indiana Railroad, a freight railroad based in Indianapolis. Other prominent leaders on the board are IndyGo president Gilbert Holmes, Eiteljorg Museum President John Vanausdall and Central Indiana Community Foundation President Brian Payne.

Other board members represent downtown area organizations that stand to gain from such a project. They include officials of the Indianapolis Zoo, Circle Centre mall, IUPUI, and White River State Park.

The next step will involve launching an in-depth study of possible routes.

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