Committee advances proposal for Mile Square district imposing fees on property owners

  • Comments
  • Print
Monument Circle from above. (IBJ photo/Mickey Shuey)

Owners of properties in downtown’s core are one step closer to paying a fee for beautification and public safety efforts beginning in 2025 after a City-County Council committee on Monday advanced a proposal creating an economic enhancement district in the Mile Square.

The City-County Council Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee heard testimony from over a dozen downtown residents and representatives of prominent companies before passing the proposal, 8-3. The full 25-member council will hear and vote on the proposal at its Dec. 4 meeting.

Those who spoke Monday evening were mostly in favor of the district. They spanned from homelessness service providers like Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, to large corporate residents such as Salesforce and Elanco Animal Health.

Councilor Kristin Jones, a Democrat who represents downtown’s District 16, told the committee that the proposal would fund solutions to the challenges her constituents are most concerned about.

“I spent a lot of time in Zoom boxes with shareholder meetings, stakeholder meetings assessing the needs and the challenges of downtown,” Jones said. “And ironically, it was almost everything that’s in this packet.”

Under the proposal, owners of single-family, residential parcels would pay an annual $250 flat fee, while other properties would have a fee rate of 0.1681% of assessed value. For instance, owners of non-residential properties and apartment buildings with a gross assessed value of $1 million would pay $1,681 toward the district, while a property valued at $25 million would pay $42,025.

The fee is expected to generate about $5.5 million per year. The proposed $5.5 million annual budget for the enhancement district would provide:

  • $1.025 million for public safety efforts, like B-link camera grants and safety patrols;
  • $570,000 for homelessness outreach, including increasing pay for a housing navigator and hours for IMPD’s Homeless Unit;
  • $2.04 million for cleaning services, including hiring an additional supervisor and additional cleaning ambassadors for daily cleaning;
  • $365,000 for administrative costs;
  • $1.5 million in support for the operation of a low-barrier homeless shelter and planned housing hub.

The city already has been funding services similar to those proposed for the district via $3.7 million in funds provided by the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The funds allowed for the creation of an 18-month pilot program operated by Downtown Indy Inc. to provide enhanced downtown services.

Downtown Indy has said the pilot program this year collected 5,000 additional bags of trash, cleaned up of 1,000 graffiti sites, provided more outreach to downtown’s homeless population and an increased public safety presence.

However, the $3.7 million in ARPA funds is projected to run out in summer 2024. City officials now want a lang-term source of funds to sustain the program.

The framework for the economic enhancement district—also known as EED—was made possible earlier this year through legislation slipped into the state budget at the eleventh hour of the Indiana General Assembly.

The City-County Council charged Downtown Indy Inc. and the Indy Chamber with talking to stakeholders and ensuring that the funds would “support the type of ongoing, consistent, reliable response and services” to make downtown Indianapolis competitive with peer cities already utilizing such a framework, Downtown Indy Inc. CEO Taylor Schaffer told the committee.

Indianapolis is the largest city without an improvement or enhancement district, according to the Indy Chamber. Peer cities such as Denver; Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Columbus, Ohio, use this mechanism, Schaffer said.

Indy Chamber led the last-minute charge to win approval for the new law in this year’s Legislature. The Indiana Apartment Association, which represents 5,000 units in the Mile Square, fought hard to stop the change and objects to the EED proposal.

Apartment Association President Lynne Petersen has called the district fee an “unlimited tax,” that will “only exacerbate the problem,” of reduced occupancy rates in commercial and residential buildings downtown.

Indianapolis-based Policy Analytics LLC did the fiscal analysis on the district. According to its assessment, apartment property owners would foot the largest chunk of the bill at $1.87 million of the $5.5 million budget, followed by office space owners at $1.77 million.

Owners of the nearly 650 residential parcels in Mile Square would account for just over $160,000 of the district’s revenue.

A few downtown residents shared concerns Monday.

Jeffrey Stroebel, a resident of the Massachusetts Avenue neighborhood, said the district is a no-brainer. However, the district cuts Massachusetts Avenue in half, while the entire area faces similar issues.

Residents in other areas could “pay in” to receive a similar level of service, Schaffer said.

In addition, Stroebel said the city would need to find a way to bridge the gap between the exhaustion of the ARPA funds and the collection of EED fees to avoid negative perceptions of downtown in the interim.

Resident Mark Firmin said Mile Square property owners shouldn’t foot the bill for services that should be within the city budget.

City-County Council Majority Leader Maggie Lewis, the chair of the committee, noted the lack of diversity within the group of downtown stakeholders that testified before the committee.

“We need to hear those voices as well,” Lewis said.

Republican council members have criticized the timing of the EED proposal. Council President Vop Osili announced on Nov. 9 that he would introduce the proposal—just two days after Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett won reelection and the Democratic caucus maintained the council supermajority.

Republican Councilor Michael-Paul Hart told the committee he was conflicted about his vote. He noted that the framework isn’t entirely new, since Marion County has economic improvement districts in Woodruff Place and the Virginia Avenue corridor. But he said the details of the district came out too late to engage with stakeholders.

“One week before committee was not enough time for me to be able to vote in favor of this,” Hart said.

The district would be governed by an eight-member board, which would consist of:

  • Four state-appointed members: Two would be appointed by the Indiana governor, one by the speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, and one by the Senate president pro tempore.
  • Four local-appointed members. Two appointees would come from the mayor and two from the City-County Council.

A majority of the board members must be downtown property owners. Board meetings would be open to the public, and the annual budgets of the board would be submitted to the City-County Council for review and approval.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

15 thoughts on “Committee advances proposal for Mile Square district imposing fees on property owners

  1. I understand the city wants to make it available for all but the city needs to stop making developers commit to building high end apartments and making a percentage of units below market rate. If you can’t afford to live downtown then that’s not the developers issue. Or there should be certain zones built exclusively for low income, middle income and upper middle income for affordable housing in downtown. Then there should be certain districts or neighborhoods where it’s at or above market value and developers are providing housing specifically for those residents who can afford it and want to live downtown. Im sure Lockerbie village and others aren’t setting aside certain units for low income residents. This is a bad idea to mix the different class of incomes in the same communities and it has nothing to do with race but mindsets and expectations that different levels of income and education have. This is the blunt truth of the matter. If you’re at a lower income bracket, why not let people work their way up to a higher income bracket to afford their dream housing in downtown or wherever in the city. The government shouldn’t be awarding lower income people with the same things some with more income has to pay full price for.

    1. This is perhaps the most ignorant take I’ve ever read in this comment section, and that’s saying a lot. I started to type out a rebuttal for every one of your points, but I haven’t had my coffee yet. Let’s just say you’ve clearly never studied the history of public housing projects, or how it works out when you concentrate poverty in one area.

      Subsidizing mixed income housing in good neighborhoods is actually a key tool that cities across this country use to decrease crime. It also helps stabilize housing prices and reduces income inequality. The fact that you’re basically advocating for more income inequality when that’s perhaps the largest issue facing the World is odd. Talk about being out of touch. You’re basically advocating making Downtown a playground for the rich.

      You’re basically advocating that the city subsidize multi-million dollar buildings, and only allow wealthy people to live there. How does that make sense? Developers are not required to offer any low-income units if they don’t take any subsidies from the City. If they thought they’d make more money keeping low-income people out and telling Indianapolis to keep it’s subsidies, they would do that.

    2. So – you want us to end up like Toronto? Where the city is falling apart because the middle class people who actually work and run the buildings and businesses downtown can’t afford to live there so it slowly is turning into a sub par place that is unaffordable to live?

      Need a plumber? minimum $1k spend because he has to spend 2.5 hours in the truck roundtrip

    3. Kevin P, so you’re advocating redlining again, only for income rather than race. It is apparently beneath you to live near someone of a lower income class than you. So, just move to Carmel and you’ll feel right at home.

  2. If Lilly and Salesforce support it, certainly they could pay for the whole thing each year? Why don’t we ask that of our responsible corporate citizens rather than foisting this on residential homeowners, apartment dwellers, and small businesses.

  3. This is nothing more than an additional tax to fund an extra layer of government in order to supplement an already poorly managed city from the very top, through the city-council, down to the various minions. You get the government you deserve.

  4. I really don’t get the comments in opposition to this tax, which will largely be paid by extremely wealthy property owners who directly benefit from the services it will provide. I’m constantly reading comments here complaining about how Downtown Indy is unsafe and dirty. You want these supposed problems solved, right? This seems like a perfect solution. I know it’s hard to grasp, but you pay taxes for the government to provide services. If you want a clean and hospitable downtown, you need to pay people to clean it up.

    There’s a reason Indiana cities can’t keep up in QOL ratings and the state continues to suffer from educated residents leaving. Everyone largely agrees about problems the State is facing, and no one wants to pay to fix them. You see this in a variety of issues from infrastructure to education to healthcare. This tax is a bare minimum that Indianapolis needs to be able to address its chronic lack of funding from the Statehouse.

    1. Agreed. Literally every major peer city we economically compete with has an EID in their downtown. These are special services that other residents of the city don’t get, so it calls for a dedicated revenue stream. Some people really just want to complain.

    2. Wesley H. – the issue is that people have lost faith in city leaders. $1 million for cameras and “safety patrols” (what even is a safety patrol?). What good is this when our liberal prosecutor Mears just releases criminals left and right? Every officer that I speak with, their #1 complaint is the “catch and release” cycle, they have lost faith and are demoralized.

    3. SB- Poor IMPD. Record breaking budgets, resources, and pay. And what do they have to show for it? One of the lowest homicide solve rates in recent decades. That low solve rate has nothing to do with the prosecutor, by the way. Maybe more criminals would be locked up if they did their jobs better and collected solid useable evidence to convict criminals. Policing in this country is a joke. You can blame the prosecutors all you want, but the same problems are happening in cities across America no matter the prosecutor. This country has a problem with lazy power hungry police who don’t actually seem to care about protecting their communities at all. They’re still whining and have their feelings hurt over the 2020 protests and “lack of respect”.

    4. Wesley – and there it is, I should have known that you never interact with the local police and your only opinion is of disdain. I wonder why they constantly appear with Pastors and other leaders in the Black community, pleading for cooperation/information to help solve murders. Also, Detectives are different than on the ground officers. Get to know them, it will help your bias. And while you are at it, look at crime rates, but specifically repeat offender rates, comparatively with Republican and Democrat Prosecutors around the country. Good luck.

    5. SB- Black Pastors are part of the problem. They take money from the community and use it to buy cars that most Lilly employees couldn’t even afford. They contribute very little to the community, like most religious institutions. I’m saying this as black person, by the way.

      And contrary to your belief, I actually am good friends with a few police officers. The ones I know agree that there is a large percentage of officers that are lazy or don’t follow the rules the department has in place, just like every other workplace in America. These people aren’t heroes going to war for America. They are employees we pay, and many of them are bad at what they do. I don’t think all police officers are bad, but you’re niave if you think there are only “a few bad apples”.

      And you’re the one talking about Republican prosecutors making crime rates lower than Democratic ones. You go ahead and provide that data if you’re so certain about it. Find big cities with Republican prosecutors and give us all the data. I’m not wasting my time proving or disproving your argument. That’s on you to do.

    6. Wesley – some shocking sense given your prior comments. With that said, “are cops heroes?”, absolutely not. Given their pay, standards of hiring, the stress, pressures on family, etc., I am shocked that from my experience, Only about 15% seem like subpar employees. Beyond that, a much smaller amount would be considered a waste of resources. If you are too lazy to see the plainly available stats, that is on you, but it is factual as recently as 2020, and partial 2021, larger cities with Republic/hard line Prosecutors, that are also in Red states, have much lower violent crime, period.

    7. SB- It’s laziness on your part, not mine. You’ve evidently read these stats. IBJ allows you to post URL’s. What you’re asking me to do is the equivalent of a prosecutor asking a defense attorney for evidence against their client. Why would I ever waste my time looking up information to help you prove your point? It is a complete waste of my time and defies logic. If you want to prove your point, post the data backing it up. Otherwise, I am done responding.

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In