Editorial: City, advocates must counter negative downtown perceptions

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

One thing became clear as IBJ was working on last week’s issue, which was almost entirely dedicated to downtown Indianapolis: The outside perception about the city center’s problems is far worse than the reality.

That is not to say downtown doesn’t face challenges. While data analyzed by IBJ showed that downtown is one of the safer neighborhoods in Indianapolis, high-profile shootings and non-violent crime is higher than it should be for an area that depends in part on attracting visitors and wants office workers to return.

The increase in the number of homeless people downtown since the start of the pandemic—or maybe just the visibility of those people—is also problematic, even if the vast majority of those people aren’t dangerous. Central Indiana residents also see downtown as less clean than it once was.

City officials and not-for-profit Downtown Indy Inc. are working on those issues.

Last fall, the city authorized $3.5 million for downtown to implement safety and cleanliness programs over 18 months. The efforts include new IMPD initiatives like increased overtime shifts for bike patrol officers and a $75,000 mobile security grant program for small to midsize businesses to tap into the IMPD b-link program, which forms a network of nearly 120 security cameras and 22 license plate readers.

But despite the problems, downtown remains a great place for central Indiana residents to come to eat out or to see a game or a show. It’s still the home of the Indianapolis Zoo, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Eiteljorg Museum. Next week, downtown will begin hosting the NFL scouting combine, and next year, the NBA All-Star Weekend will land in downtown Indy.

Residents across the region, the state and the nation should feel confident that they can come downtown to visit those places and participate in those events without fear about their safety. But the reporting we did for our stories last week found that many people do not feel comfortable coming downtown. And even if they do, many don’t believe there are still things downtown to do.

That means a crucial job for Downtown Indy Inc., Visit Indy and the city is to actively work to battle the negative perception of downtown. That will mean an aggressive marketing campaign to remind residents in the region what there is to do downtown and that they can feel safe coming to do it.

Downtown Indy President Taylor Schaffer wrote in a column for IBJ last week that just such an effort is in the works. Later this year, she wrote, “we will launch our organization’s comprehensive paid marketing campaign, using social and digital platforms to encourage central Indiana residents who are already coming downtown to spend more time, spend more money and enjoy more of our downtown ecosystem.”

To make the message stick, of course, the city must follow through on its larger efforts related to crime, homelessness and cleanliness. Downtown Indy’s marketing campaign will fail if it draws people downtown only to have those visitors find the very problems the campaign was trying to combat.

Indianapolis can’t afford to have that happen.•


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8 thoughts on “Editorial: City, advocates must counter negative downtown perceptions

    1. Agree! If he can’t even keep the roads in working order, then he certainly is not going to be able to handle homelessness and cleanliness

  1. This article is a good to see. I work downtown and agree – the scope of negative perception is exaggerated, leftover from the riot incident and extended languish from that. However, the cleanliness perception is totally valid. Downtown and key thoroughfares / intersections in the city are nasty. So much trash. Ever travel Keystone Ave? Yikes. Would like to see the city /mayor initiate volunteer clean-drives with neighborhood advocates.

    1. Hi Susie,

      Neighborhood cleanups are already available for folks via a partnership between the City and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. Head to KIB for more info.

  2. I largely agree with this editorial, but would emphasize that the perception of downtown as relatively dirty with a lot of vagrancy is mostly accurate – and a PR campaign focused primarily on convincing people otherwise will likely fail. “Safety” is a pretty big catch-all, and for most people it contains far more that simple crime rates. So, what to do? Focus on the fact that there are a lot of great attractions downtown, and that it is far safer than many think, while at the same time doing the substantive work of making it cleaner and more inviting. (It would be great if the entire city was made cleaner, but when is the last time you saw a city worker pick up any litter? I’ve never seen it happen in this city – not once.)

  3. We need our local media outlets to print and air more of this type of information rather than local “Breaking News” with 15-30 minute “say nothing” announcements of every shooting or negative thing that happens in downtown. They’re selling drama. We also should not allow politically motivated billboards on 465 talking about how bad our crime is to skewer local politicians. I understand we may have a leadership problem and you can have whatever opinion you want, but why does our community and media continually shoot ourselves in the foot by saying, “Hey, attention! Breaking News! We suck and it’s dangerous here!”. That’s just not true and anyone whoever does that is degrading our community. Every city has crime and I’m not suggesting we not track or report things. However, no company ever sustained by telling customers how bad they were. It’s the same with a city or community. Tell the truth, but stop the sensationalizing situations and the overt amplification of the negative. We do so at our own peril.

  4. When reading responses, I got the sense people truly cared about Indy. I picked up on several insider “perspectives”; I didn’t catch any outsider “perceptions”. I could have missed them. I know that sounds like semantics, although to me there’s a huge distinction. Perceptions almost sound like silly notions, ideas, or assumptions which can be easily explained away with rational wisdom. It might also imply there’s no real substance to a person’s statement or reality to an any tangible underlying problem.