The leader of civic organization Downtown Indy Inc. said Thursday that she is bullish on the future of the city’s core—and the not-for-profit’s role in moving downtown forward.
Taylor Schaffer, who last year was hired to lead the 30-year-old organization after six years of working for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, said Downtown Indy Inc. has crafted a new mission statement and vision for itself in recent months that it hopes will bolster its relationship with downtown residents, business owners and other organizations.
“When I took on the role as CEO of Downtown Indy Inc., I knew I was joining the organization at a pivotal time—a time for DII to investigate its role and responsibilities and to elevate its commitment to being a leader in downtown Indianapolis,” she said in prepared remarks during the organization’s State of Downtown event.
“One of my first charges by our board was to initiate a strategic planning process to articulate the organization’s role, responsibilities, mission, vision, and values and to realize sustainable organizational change.”
The new mission, Schaffer said, is to be the “trusted champion, convener and steward of a dynamic downtown Indianapolis.” Downtown Indy’s new “guiding principles,” she added, will focus on being bold, innovative, inclusive, compassionate and responsive.
The former mission statement for Downtown Indy was to “advocate for a great urban core as we manage, market, activate and develop our downtown,” with a focus on keeping downtown clean, safe, beautiful and vibrant.
The new approach was established through months of consulting with Seattle-based BDS Planning, which specializes in strategic planning for cities and civic organization. The new mission has been approved by the Downtown Indy board.
The organization also plans to launch a new downtown resident-focused communication tool this weekend called Indy’s Downtown Neighborhood Alliance, or DNA, which will act as an information-sharing network to engage individuals and families with a downtown address.
During the State of Downtown event, Schaffer shared portions of the group’s latest Community Report, which says about 29,000 people live in the Indianapolis Regional Center, with the number of total households increasing by 62% since 2010.
The Regional Center covers a 6.5-square-mile area that extends from 16th Street on the north (plus a narrow strip a couple of blocks wide on either side of Meridian Street up to 30th Street) to Interstate 70 on the south, and a little past the White River on the west to the Interstate 65/70 leg on the east.
According to the report, downtown office vacancy is about 9.4% across Class A, B and C spaces—an increase of 1.1 percentage points from a year prior—according to CoStar.
Downtown Indy previously relied on office data from Chicago-based brokerage Cushman & Wakefield, which pegs current vacancy for downtown around 20%—but that figure only considers Class A office buildings such as Salesforce Tower, OneAmerica Tower and others.
According to Downtown Indy, CoStar tracks about 27 million square feet of office space in the Regional Center while Cushman & Wakefield only covers 11.3 million.
The State of Downtown event also touched on continued downtown development—which is expected to exceed $9 billion in the next five years—along with ongoing beautification and engagement efforts. Those efforts include Spark on the Circle, a $3.5 million contribution from the city for cleanliness and safety efforts, and news from earlier this week that a new low-barrier shelter will be built on the east side of downtown, near Fountain Square.
There have been about 14 million office visits since January—a 25% year-over-year rise and an increase of 67% since 2021, according to Downtown Indy.
Schaffer said that despite upticks in certain categories, downtown continues to face numerous challenges, including companies balancing in-office and remote work; a shift in the retail landscape; the growth of the suburbs; and perceptions about downtown safety, even as fewer incidents are reported.
“This matters, not just to the health of our office towers and commercial real estate market, but to the small businesses that rely on office workers for their lunchtime crowds, for hotels that host business travelers, and for the feeling of safety and vibrancy that comes with busy streets,” she said.
To that end, Downtown Indy is working with the Capital Improvement Board to roll out a new marketing campaign to residents across central Indiana with a goal of “breaking down negative perceptions and affirming that downtown is the hub for arts, culture and one of a kind experiences,” she said.