Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said he still generally supports efforts to create a new tax district for downtown initiatives, but those pushing the effort say the chances that any such proposal will be voted on by the City-County Council before the November mayoral election are minuscule.
The proposed economic enhancement district—enabled as part of a law from the Indiana General Assembly at the end of its 2023 session—could help fund numerous revitalization efforts, including cleanliness initiatives, homelessness outreach, safety ambassadors and costs for an eventual low-barrier homeless shelter.
“Conceptually, the administration has been supportive of this new opportunity the General Assembly has afforded us, and I’ve been engaged in conversations with community stakeholders throughout the city,” Hogsett told IBJ late last week.
The state law allows the council to create an economic enhancement district board that could impose a fee on property owners in the Mile Square. However, strong support from constituents will likely be needed to persuade a majority of members on the Democratic-controlled City-County Council to buy in.
“While it has not been finalized, in terms of what that’s actually going to look like, I reserve the opportunity to continue to engage as many people as I can, as those final decisions are made,” the two-term mayor said. “Once those are made, I’ll be in a much better position to say the city is 100% supportive of … this proposal, or we we’d like to see some tweaks to it.”
But the fate of the proposed district could also depend on the results of November’s election, which pits Hogsett against former City-County Council member Jefferson Shreve, a Republican. When asked for their position on the concept, Hogsett said he was supportive, while Shreve told IBJ he is open to every available tool.
Taylor Schaffer, CEO of civic organization Downtown Indy Inc., which is entrenched in the effort to create the enhancement district alongside the Indy Chamber, said much more work must be done before a proposal is finalized. Due to the various approvals that would be required, and the fact no proposal has been put forth, it’s unlikely that will come before Nov. 7.
“Right now, we’re really listening and learning,” Schaffer, a former chief of staff for Hogsett, said. “If there’s going to be additional dollars raised through that fee structure, then how are those dollars being invested to best protect the investment of those [downtown], whether it’s through their business or personally.”
The timeline isn’t surprising. In June, IBJ reported that Council President Vop Osili didn’t believe any moves would come ahead of the election. But that’s not to say Schaffer, the Chamber and other’s aren’t feeling a time crunch, as it’s possible the General Assembly could move to change or undo the legislation when it reconvenes in January if no action is taken by city leaders.
Matt Mindrum, who was recently named president and CEO of the Indy Chamber, effective Dec. 1, hasn’t addressed when he expects the matter to move ahead to a council vote. But he said continued investment in downtown is critical to its future.
“We think [the economic enhancement district] is a huge opportunity,” he said. “We need to be investing in downtown and cleanliness and public safety and amenities, and that is one tool that we hope will allow us to do that even more effectively.”
Taylor Hughes, vice president of policy and strategy for the Indy Chamber, said the organization doesn’t expect a proposal to be ready before the election.
In a statement to IBJ, Shreve criticized the Hogsett administration’s delay in establishing the district.
“Indianapolis is still paying the price for the Hogsett administration’s failures before, during and after the downtown riots,” Shreve said. “It’s unconscionable that he wouldn’t have moved quickly to take advantage of this opportunity to breathe new life into downtown. This is just another example of the Hogsett administration’s inability to do basic things.”
Shreve opposed a similar taxing district in 2018, but he told IBJ in June that the Legislature’s approach is somewhat different in that it envisions that a portion of the tax revenue would provide needed ongoing funding for a low-barrier homeless shelter.
Schaffer said while no specific timeline is in the offing, several property owners are actively receiving regular briefings from civic leaders as part of the budget-building process. Many property owners are also being briefed about the impact an economic enhancement district would have on their property and what they would owe.
Currently, Downtown Indy Inc. is largely funded through membership fees and donations, but is using a $3.5 million grant from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to promote its cleanliness and safety strategy for downtown. That funding runs through June 2024, by which time Hogsett indicated the organization will need to have another funding mechanism in place.
“We are really committed to having conversations with property owners directly impacted to build a budget that reflects a level of service that makes sense for [them] and that allows property owners in downtown to feel like they are seeing, feeling a direct benefit,” he said.