Elanco CEO says ‘another level of urgency’ needed to improve downtown

Keywords Downtown / Elanco / Leadership
Jeff Simmons (Photo courtesy of Elanco Animal Health)

The leader of Elanco Animal Health Inc. is challenging city officials, businesspeople and civic leaders to take a hard look at the future of downtown Indianapolis.

Speaking during a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Indiana on Wednesday, Elanco CEO Jeff Simmons said he has had conversations with Mayor Joe Hogsett and several business leaders in recent weeks about the downtown’s struggles with homelessness, infrastructure, talent attraction and retention, and real estate.

Elanco, currently based in Greenfield, last year broke ground on a new $100 million headquarters at the former General Motors stamping plant site near downtown Indianapolis, just west of the White River. It plans to complete the facility in the next 24 to 30 months. The complex is part of an overall $300 million investment Elanco is making in the state over the next several years.

The city has committed about $135 million in tax-increment financing bonds toward the project. About $64 million of that TIF package will go to Elanco via a project fund, with $51 million going toward public infrastructure improvements and another $20 million used for financing and debt.

Simmons said downtown’s largest priorities should be centered on three areas:

— Disrupting “pockets of poverty” downtown and solving homelessness issues;
— Forgoing political points to focus on a more inclusive and inviting downtown business and living environment;
— and bringing in more downtown attractions focused on cultural and community events and activities.

“There are many things going right in the city—I want everyone to know that and hear that from me,” Simmons told more than 300 luncheon attendees. “We have significant realities that if we’re going to make Indianapolis a destination for talent, companies and innovators, not to get them to visit but to relocate .. We’ve got work to do.”

Simmons proposed that businesses, not-for-profits and public entities all take a deeper interest in downtown by designating senior executives to lead individual efforts on downtown immersion and engagement. He said all parties need to have an aligned agenda to get the ball rolling—potentially starting with tackling homelessness.

Simmons said he considers the topic of homelessness a “values issue” that should include a holistic look at increasing quality of life for those living on the street, including long-term housing solutions, food, health care and mental health treatment.

“It’s something that we believe is critical, first for the people who are on the streets and, second, the ability of what it can do for our city,” he said. “That’s something that I think could start to change downtown Indianapolis the fastest, for the right reasons, starting with the people.”

Additionally, the city should look at areas where it can succeed in attracting more of the things at which it’s already been successful—conventions and sporting events, academic programs and businesses focused on health care and agriculture and life sciences, he said.

“We have no time for finger pointing. We also don’t have time to be too ‘Hoosier nice.’ We have to challenge, we have to be able to … speak directly,” Simmons said. “We need less accolades and a little bit more accountability.

“Elanco is ready to be a catalyst, to be part of this. We’re committed. We’re extremely thankful to what’s been done by the state and the city for us. We’ve got the right organizations and structures, we got great leaders of those organizations. We don’t need to invent something new: we need to collaborate with what we have.”

He said he believes that most downtown business owners and executives are in agreement that the city is “at a critical juncture,” but added that he believes “there needs to be another gear—another level of urgency” to improve the downtown area over the next two years.

“I think anything that matters, you get after it, and a lot can be done in 24 months in the state of Indiana with the way we work,” he said. “It’s the most collaborative state and community I’ve ever been part of—and I’m in a lot of them with our company. When we put our minds to something with a timeline, across public, private and nonprofit [entities], things will happen.”

A spokesperson for Hogsett confirmed the mayor spoke with Simmons on Tuesday by phone.

“Mayor Hogsett welcomes the comments from Jeff Simmons and shares his urgency about creating a safe, prosperous, equitable future for downtown,” Mark Bode, director of communications for the city of Indianapolis, said in an email to IBJ.

Bode pointed to various ongoing initiatives undertaken by city officials to promote downtown, including a $3.5 million partnership with Downtown Indy Inc. focused on safety, cleanliness and outreach to home-challenged individuals; the city’s three-year, $150 million violence reduction strategy; and ongoing efforts to reposition city-owned real estate like City Market East and the future redevelopment of Circle Centre Mall.

City officials “know that the future of downtown will be shaped by the businesses and universities that help us attract and retain talent,” Bode said. “But we know we can’t do it alone. We welcome the participation of the private and philanthropic sectors to further these efforts, whether by supporting what’s underway, advocating for change at the state level, or collaborating on new ideas.”

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25 thoughts on “Elanco CEO says ‘another level of urgency’ needed to improve downtown

  1. You know, Jeff, that Greenfield is a beautiful suburb with a minimal homeless and crime problem. And you have some really nice buildings already there. Maybe you should just stay in the community that helped you.

  2. I can appreciate and respect Elisa’s comment.
    Mr. Simmons’ thoughts have my support, a downtown business owner since 2000. From my prospective, the homeless issue has only been addressed when absolutely necessary. We should place the same demands on them as we do the taxpayers. I agree they should be helped but with conditions. My comments to DOT and the mayor’s hot line have fallen on deaf ears to the point I gave up.
    Connect the developed connections to the mile square by cleaning and renovating overpassed.
    I’ve lived in Indy for 40 years but downtown for 23. I’m happy to see the ever-growing development by private investors. it’s a darn good city.
    Thanks for throwing it on the table in the open Mr. Simmons.

  3. The problem starts at the the top. Hogsett is an empty suit. He may have been a great attorney many years ago but he is a terrible leader that is not holding his deputies and department leaders accountable for the basic blocking and tackling duties that a city must perform. Do the basics well (sidewalks, trash, lighting) and he would get more support from the citizens for his plans to tackle the more challenging problems. Who’s going to trust the mayor and his administration if he can’t handle the basics.

  4. “Simmons proposed that businesses, not-for-profits and public entities all take a deeper interest in downtown by designating senior executives to lead individual efforts on downtown immersion and engagement. He said all parties need to have an aligned agenda to get the ball rolling”

    This was how any number of key “downtown” problem-solving organizations started over the years: Indianapolis Downtown Inc., Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. Mr. Simmons might try to get his fellow CEOs fired up about one of those groups, and then get busy.

    1. Chris B.
      The city has many great organizations with solid leadership skills. But
      they are still governmental bureaucracies. Government bureaucracies are not
      as nimble and quick as the private sector is.

      We really need the private sector to step up as they once did ( think the 80’s )
      with a vision for a much more prosperous downtown.

    2. Keith, none of the organizations I listed are “governmental bureaucracies”. GIPC is a public-private partnership, and the other two were started by business leaders.

  5. Agreed. A call to action is a good first step. Actual action is the next one. Please do a follow up story on whether/how Simmons and Elanco walk the talk.

    1. Mickey L.
      Agreed!
      The private sector is needed also. In fact it was the private sector that led the
      charge during the 80’s that really transformed downtown.

      Since the plane crash in ( can’t remember the year ), our private sector
      has never stepped up together in unison with a vision for downtown.

    2. Most of the local businesses that previously existed have been bought up by out-of-state companies who don’t care as much.

      Heck, didn’t it used to be illegal for a bank in Indiana to be headquartered outside the state?

    3. JoeB.
      Correct, our banking laws were very outdated. By the time
      Indiana deregulated it was too late.

  6. I was downtown just today driving up Illinois Street. It is rediculious.
    The homeless and vagrants literally camping out on the corners of
    Washington Street and Illinois. The vagrants on Illinois and Georgia is rediculious
    also.

    -Monument Circle – is a mess also with trash, vagrants sleeping on the Circle,
    and the empty store fronts. It looks terrible. The homeless and vagrants
    hanging out are a big reason why Starbucks closed. The Circle looks worse
    than it ever has.

    City Market the same thing. Trash strewn around and vagrants hanging out
    in front of city market. No one wants to wade through that nonsense.
    They will just avoid the area entirely.

    The areas that I mentioned are where the conventioneers tend to spend
    time walking around. The image of downtown that they are seeing is horrible.
    I’ll bet they can’t wait to get the hell out of downtown.

    City officals need to ask themselves this. With all the out of towners and
    visitors coming to downtown Indy over the years, why aren’t any companies
    picking Indianapolis ( especially downtown) to expand or relocate in.
    Literally not one company has committed to our downtown.
    ****Hell, even our local headquartered corporations haven’t expanded and
    will not expand in our downtown. ***. See a problem there.

    The answer is simple. The out of town business people and visitors are seeing
    the decay and decline that our city leaders refuse to see.

    Our City leaders better wake up and take action before our local headquartered
    downtown corporations decide to leave for greener pastures in places
    like Nashville. Charlotte, Austin, or any other number of growing VIBRANT cities.

    Jim Irsay was sounding the alarm bells concerning downtown also last spring.
    Saying downtown had become stagnant. It has.

    Downtown along Illinois, Pennsylvania, the mall, and Monument Circle need
    beautification and maintenance badly.

    Maybe we need to rethink the amounts of money we are subsidizing the
    Simmons and Irsay. We literally are not keeping any of the revenue produced
    from Gaimbridge Fieldhouse or Lucs Oil Stadium. We need the revenues
    produced from these facilities to help maintain our downtown maintenance
    and landscaping.

    Irsay wants to be in the middle of the NFL pack for revenue. That requires
    Indianapolis to produce the same amount of revenue that a metro area the
    size of Minneapolis/St.Paul ( 3.6 million in their Metro ) produces, verses
    Indianapolis 2.1 million. That’s a huge difference.

    Our city leaders need to step up and stop worrying about identity politics before
    it’s too late.

    1. THIS!!! We have all the organizations to draw and manage events, and they are spending money on certain areas/venuss. But if downtown continues on the path is is currently on, those agencies will be worthless.

  7. The problems facing Downtown really need to be addressed at the state level. You can’t outlaw homeless people. The way you deal with it is by funding mental health services and building long term housing. It’s been done in other cities, but it’s always funded by state or federal money. Indianapolis doesn’t even have enough money to fix potholes because Indiana doesn’t fund urban areas properly. There’s no way Indianapolis can solve it’s homeless problem without state help. The mayor should be at the Statehouse yelling for more money.

  8. Mr. Simmons is saying what many have already been saying. The alarm bells
    are being sounded.

    1). We need the private sector to step up and collaborate as they did in the 80’s.
    Then the private sector needs to act. We have great governmental organizations
    to promote our city, but they are bureaucracies. We need the private sector.
    They’re more nimble and aggressive.

    2). We need to clean downtown up and get the homeless off the streets.

    3). We need to dump our our awe shucks and be more aggressive in selling
    ourselves. We must target market certain areas for young talent and other
    areas for economic development.

    4). Let’s think outside the box. Be creative and aggressive. We have selling
    points. Let’s utilize them.

    5). Stop all the political correctness and identity politics and focus on
    excellennce and growth.

    6). Treat downtown economic development as a blood sport.
    No participation trophies. Just results!! We need results oriented personnel.

    Downtown Indianapolis has not had a major employer move in from outside
    of the state or a major expansion from any of our corporate companies headquartered here in over twenty years.

    We’ve only had one major high rise go up in the last 30 years. That signals
    stagnation not growth.

    Our downtown office vacancy rates are still rediculiously high. And
    that’s after many of our former office space buildings are being renovated
    for other uses.

    We need visionaries to set in motion the wheels of progress.

    1. What Wes said. Private businesses can’t help with the mental health issues. The city of Indianapolis is working on a low barrier shelter with mental health services, that isn’t coming from the private sector.

      Also, “stop the political correctness” ain’t going to fly in an urban area. Tell the folks at the Statehouse to stop importing the same small-mindness that has cleaned most of Indiana … to the state level. People are fleeing rural Indiana and coming to the Indianapolis area. Maybe state legislators should be copying what Carmel and Zionsville and Fishers are doing … and go do that elsewhere. It’s not like we don’t have the money.

      We know why Indiana is losing to other states, our workforce and students aren’t smart enough. Our answer as a state has been to divert more money to charter and religious schools … that, to be clear, don’t achieve any better educational outcomes than public schools. If we aren’t getting better outcomes, what’s the point?

      IEDC can bribe people all day long with tax dollars to bring businesses here. We can’t help companies with staff and we aren’t a place people want to move to. There’s a reason the only thing locating the area are distribution centers that pay squat and treat people like disposable cogs, that’s what we have the workers capable of doing.

    2. Joe B.

      There is a rift between the rural legislators and Indy. Resentment and jealousy.
      Something that hurts Indianapolis. I do blame the R’s for that. Everyone
      Is fighting for their piece of the pie. But to think a Dem dominated state would
      be any better is wishful thinking at best.

      The criteria needed that constantly gets brought up as lacking in Indiana
      has not stopped Kentucky, Tennesse, South Carolina , ect…from snagging
      so many major economic development projects. You can’t tell me that these
      States have better public education and health than Indiana.
      The South until about 1980 was called the redneck South for a reason.

      I remember when Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin were not much more than
      a glorified Ft Wayne.
      Those cities and so many more have completely bypassed Indy.
      Louisville probably will too in the next 20 years. There economic
      engine is rock solid. Plus they have the University of Louisville that is now heavily
      involved in bio medical research.

      Indianapolis made a huge mistake several decades ago by turning IUPUI
      into an independent University. Indianapolis will never be the bastion of
      research & development that our local officals want Both IU and Purdue will always keep the bulk
      of their research on their main campuses and for good reasons.

      Indianapolis Public Schools has been a basket case since I moved here.
      If the system is broke, just putting more money into it will not work.
      IPS was already going sideways and has only gotten worse as it has
      went further left

    3. I said nothing about a Democrat controlled state. The war is between the moderate and conservative Republicans and the conservatives are winning. The cost of their victory is that young people and businesses have little to no interest in staying in Indiana.

      You’ve been counting on the private sector for a few decades now and it’s not going to happen. That era has passed, for better or worse. Jim Brainard didn’t wait for the private sector in Carmel. Mark Myers didn’t wait for the private sector in Greenwood. (Brainard got such great results borrowing money that Statehouse Republicans changed the laws so no other city in Indiana could do the same thing, for better or worse.)

      As far as Indianapolis, Democrats are winning elections because Republicans don’t have a vision for Indianapolis outside of “Joe Hogsett bad”. Heck I’d settle for a Marion County Republican Party that stood up and fought at the Statehouse for better road funding but I can’t even get that.

      Indianapolis grew in part because they bet on sports and conventions and SPENT GOVERNMENT MONEY to do that. They made bets that could have failed miserably. They built a football stadium. Worked here, didn’t work in San Antonio.

      We do not have any city or state leaders that want to invest in the future. Teeth had to be pulled to get Lucas Oil Stadium built. Government spending or investment in infrastructure is regarded as a communicable disease.

      A reminder that IPS is what it is because city officials knew they couldn’t have Indianapolis consolidated schools because of racism, which then had to be rectified with decades of busing which people responded to by fleeing Marion County. There is nothing stopping state officials from taking IPS over and fixing it if they wanted – they’ve done it with other districts. I think it’s much more convenient for them to just blame IPS and tell them it’s all their fault.

  9. Joe B.
    A mayoral Republican candidate could have a great vision for the city
    and still lose. The white vote is pretty well divided while the black vote
    is predominately Dem. in other words, we will probably not see a Republican
    mayor for a very long time.

    I do agree that that our local representatives and city administration should fight
    harder at the state House for more resources. We need fighters?

    Indianapolis Public Svhools are hurting the growth and development of
    Indianapolis overall. Quality of the schools in a district is a huge factor
    in where people decide to buy a house.

    It’s not like IPS is under funded. Between city, state,
    and federal dollars, IPS is well funded. However, IPS is administratively very top heavy. IPS is going further left into racial identity politics which is not helping
    it’s cause.

    Do agree that federal mandated busing in IPS helped kill off the district.
    Many IPS schools were not just neighborhood schools. They were the center pieces of community affairs. The schools were
    very integral to the well being local communities. The schools were
    community centers. Busing destroyed that.

    The private sector has basically stepped aside to let governmental agencies
    take over. But the private sector is very important. We need them to step up
    to be as involved as much as possible for a prosperous Indianapolis.
    Government is not as nimble and quick.

    1. Keith … we haven’t had a Republican candidate with vision for some time. Greg Ballard’s vision was to sell off city assets for one time cash infusions.

      It’s no accident we have gone from a city with a Republican mayor and a Republican majority on the CCC to … a Republican caucus so small they can carpool in a four door sedan.

      It’s not as though Republicans don’t have vision. Jim Brainard had vision. Myers and Fadness had vision. Sure, they included the private sector but they led.

      And I’d agree with Chris above – the Capital Improvement Board and Indianapolis Downtown aren’t government bureaucrats.

      And that was true when they led the Convention Center getting built or the Hoosier Dome.

      Put another way, Bob Welch and Jim Morris aren’t walking through that door. Embrace and support what’s here.

    2. We need mayoral candidates with vision. Whether it’s a Dem or a Republican
      makes no difference to me. I harken back to Hudnut. Hudnut with Frick, Morris ,
      Welch, McKinny, and others brought projects to life. These men had a vision
      for a greater downtown. Hard to believe there is not a new generation of these
      men and now women to step forward.

      Brainaird, Fadndss, Meyers, are all good examples currently of men with vision
      for their local communities. But we don’t have that for Indianapolis???

      ****It’s just difficult to believe that Indianapolis is somehow void. That the
      well has went dry*****

      I’m not knocking our local governmental affiliated organizations that include
      the private sector. MANY VERY FINE organizations such as the Capitol Improvement Board, Visit Indy, Downtown Indy Inc., and
      the Department of Metropolitan Development. In fact I did volunteer work
      for Downtown Indy when I first moved here in 84. In a small building located
      on the Circle until the Emmis Building took its place. That was an exciting time for the city. You could feel the vibe of exciting downtown projects coming
      to life.

      With the organizations that we have, How is it possible that –

      1). Monument Circle is such a mess. It’s dirty, vagrants everywhere,
      and all the empty store fronts and abandoned space. The curbs and sidewalks
      in desperate need of maintenance.
      Monument Circle is probably the most prestigious piece of real estate in the
      entire state of Indiana. It probably receives more out of town visitors than any other piece of real estate in the entire state. Monument Circle is suppose to
      be an icon of the city. It represents the greatness of our city.
      **. Yet Monument Circle is in worse shape today than ever ***
      ***What kind of a message does that send****

      2). Illinois Street from the bus station up to Washing Street is dirty, side walks
      and curbs badly in need of repair, trashy, and homeless people everywhere.
      ** This is another area that out of towners frequent because they have to.****

      3). City Market is trashy, sides & curbs in need of repair, lots of vagrants.
      NO ONE wants to wade through that. They’ll just avoid going.

      If I’m an out of towner seeing this, I’m thinking man, this city is in decline.
      Do we really want to come back.
      If I’m a mover & shaker, I’m thinking, man, do we want to invest here.

      We have not had one major building go up in all most 30 years. The last
      one was The JW Marriot in 2012. Then Cummins built their nine story building.
      But not one building surpassing 400 feet.
      No cranes downtown building any major buildings at all. Because there is
      no investment going on.

      Out of towners notice these things just as the locals do.

      You’ve mentioned that the homeless problem is a state problem.
      Then the Hogsett Administration needs to step up and fight. This is
      not acceptable anymore and it’s hurting our reputation as a convention
      and sports event city.

      The homeless problem was never a major issue until about ten years ago.
      Same with the cleanliness, and the sidewalk & curb maintenance issues also.

      Is it a funding problem?? Are we subsidizing the Colts and Pacers to a point
      that it’s affecting the areas of downtown that are vital to our convention
      and major sporting events??
      That seems to be about the time when maintenance and cleanliness started
      declining along with an ever increasing vagrant population.

    3. Joe-
      Sorry about being so long winded.
      But I’m very passionate about our downtown and our city overall.
      I want downtown and the city to prosper as we are seeing happen in
      Nashville.

      I’m as competitive when it comes to our downtown and city as any
      sports fanatic is to his hometown team.

    4. Keith, we’ve been cutting for some time. We just flat don’t want to invest in the future. You’re seeing the outcome.

      I’d also remind you we have Republican legislators at the Statehouse who could also fight for Indianapolis. Their primary interests appear to be in doing everything they can to make IndyGo useless (as opposed to seeing it as a means to get people without the means for a car to all those unfilled jobs downtown) and telling the Marion County prosecutor, among other officials, how to do their jobs.

      I mean, sure, it’s great Aaron Freeman is changing some Byzantine legal reference to get Marion County $7 million a year. That’s a drop in the bucket to what’s needed. And if you can tell me what Jack Sandlin or Mike Young or Mike Speedy are doing for their constituents, you’d be the first.

      All they want to do it say no. None of them have anything useful to add. It’s as though they would rather see Indianapolis fail because it’s better for their political prospects.

      As far as the homeless problem, a reminder that the city of Indianapolis was working on this

      “City report calls for low-barrier, service-rich shelter for homeless residents“

      https://www.ibj.com/articles/city-report-calls-for-low-barrier-service-rich-shelter-for-homeless-residents

      Something like this is what’s needed – get people off the streets, get them some mental help.

  10. Opening back up the sanitariums is the only way to get the homeless and criminally insane off the streets.
    Their families, businesses, charities and government groups have failed them.
    Living on the street and doing drugs is not etc. is not humane.

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