Indianapolis mayoral candidates differ on visions for downtown

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Downtown’s vibrancy has been dulled by some national post-pandemic trends, including a decrease in office workers, an increase in homelessness and crime, and the continued decline of downtown malls.

Whoever is elected mayor will have to tackle these lingering challenges and consider new directions for downtown.

In the Democratic primary election on May 2, incumbent Mayor Joe Hogsett’s chief opponent is widely considered to be State Rep. Robin Shackleford, with community activist Clif Marsiglio adding ideas such as a downtown casino to the mix.

In the Republican primary, the key battle appears to be between businessman Jefferson Shreve and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, with the Rev. James W. Jackson bringing a focus on crime reduction.

The candidates laid out their visions for downtown in interviews with IBJ.

The Republicans

Shabazz: Indy should be Midwestern hub

Shabazz, an attorney and editor of, said Indianapolis should become a place that attracts more corporate headquarters.

Given its unique location—only two to four hours from Midwestern cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Columbus, Ohio—he said Indianapolis should be a greater business hub.

In a perfect world, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange would move to Indianapolis, he added.

Regarding downtown crime, Shabazz said the problem is mostly perception, which could be remedied with more police presence and officer patrols.

Violent crimes such as homicides, rapes and assaults in the Downtown District accounted for 1.1% of the city’s overall reported crimes in 2021, according to data from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s federal uniform crime report, which logs significant violent and nonviolent crimes. That figure has nearly doubled since 2010 (0.6%), although it is the lowest of IMPD’s six districts.

For some, the perception of decreasing safety downtown is influenced by the area’s rising number of homeless people, Shabazz said.

One way to combat that rise is to consider “involuntary commitments” of mentally ill individuals living on the streets, he said. The practice, used in Portland, Oregon, and New York City, allows police to bring homeless individuals with mental health problems into treatment against their will.

Shabazz also said businesses should be allowed to own a portion of the sidewalks in front of buildings so they can dismiss homeless individuals from the property. Vacant industrial properties could be converted into low-barrier homeless shelters or outreach centers, he said.

On the future of Circle Centre Mall, Shabazz embraced the oft-repeated desire of some downtown residents for a Target. In 2019, the Minneapolis-based retailer ruled out the mall for a future location, IBJ reported at the time.

Aside from landing a Target, the mall space could also contain condos and apartments, Shabazz said.


Shreve: Future depends on collaboration

Shreve, a former city-county councilor, said he isn’t ready to reveal his vision for downtown, but he has plenty of thoughts about downtown safety and other concerns that will require public and private collaboration.

“This isn’t quite the time to lay out my administration’s big vision for downtown,” Shreve said, adding that those opportunities will come later.

Shreve said high priorities for him are supporting law enforcement and decreasing crime concerns downtown and elsewhere.

In 2014, Shreve was part of an IMPD staffing commission that resulted in funding for 150 more officers. Shreve said not all those positions were filled, and now the city is about 200 officers short of its goal of 1,843.

The 2023 budget offers a nearly $62,000 starting salary to recruits, along with a $10,000 sign-on bonus. Despite the pay being the highest among Midwestern peer cities, Shreve said officers are still leaving.

“We lose talented law enforcement officers to greener pastures in the doughnut counties,” Shreve said, adding that he would focus on conducting exit interviews to determine why officers don’t stay in Indianapolis.

The city recently devoted $9 million toward technology that includes mobile trailer cameras, B-Link cameras and license plate readers to help monitor, track, deter and solve crime. The B-Link cameras connect local businesses with IMPD.

Shreve said the 120 B-Link cameras the city has installed aren’t nearly enough to make the program meaningful. He said Storage Express, the company he founded, had “twentyfold” that amount at its 107 properties when he sold it last year.

Helping small businesses also might mean placing tighter restrictions on panhandlers, who can scare away customers, Shreve said. Homelessness has no simple solution, he said, but he would plan to meet with policymakers, faith-based organizations and not-for-profits to move the needle.

Regarding the future of Circle Centre Mall, Shreve said the site needs to be a mixed-use development, with office and retail components. Some of the department store space could become multifamily residential, the candidate said.

“But the core of Circle Centre Mall that was redeveloped and built in the early ’90s does not readily lend itself to a conversion to residential. So it will have to be a combination of uses.”

Shreve added that he would favor retaining the existing movie theater.


Jackson: Fix crime problems first

Jackson, the pastor of Fervent Prayer Church, on East 38th Street between Mitthoefer and East German Church roads, is focused on lowering the city’s violent crime rate before any big developments take place downtown.

Although he is concerned about crime downtown, Jackson said, that district is still IMPD’s safest. But his Fervent Prayer Church is in the East District, which typically has the highest crime rates. It saw 85 homicides in 2021, while downtown had nine.

If elected, Jackson said, he would reinstate the position of public safety director, which the Hogsett administration eliminated in 2016. Many of those duties were moved to the then-new Office of Public Health and Safety.

Jackson said the public safety director role’s would be to build strong relationships between the Mayor’s Office and the chief of police, the sheriff, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Make sure that, when it comes to crime, that we have relationships built where, if something happens, we can get it solved pretty quickly,” Jackson said. “That’s my idea of community policing.”

He would also work with local and state lawmakers to ensure that repeat violent offenders aren’t released early, he added. He’s also concerned about the release of state prisoners in Indianapolis, which contributes to Indy’s homeless population.

To help prevent more Indianapolis residents from becoming homeless, Jackson said, his administration would work more with philanthropic partners to establish a permanent rental assistance program.

Jackson wants Indianapolis’ next big vision to be family-friendly, including more outdoor destinations. He said the city needs to put more focus on public outdoor spaces like White River State Park and the Central Canal. A beach could be created, like the Geist Reservoir Waterfront Park in Fishers, he said.

“With a safer downtown Indianapolis, I don’t think that you’d have a problem getting people to walk over to something like that,” he said.

As for the mall, the pastor would like to see it become a gathering space that is not centered on alcohol. He suggested condos and restaurants as other uses for the space, which he said would be mixed-use.

The Democrats

Shackleford: Make downtown an ‘entertainment mecca’

State Rep. Robin Shackleford envisions a downtown with a renewed focus on fun.

Shackleford said she remembers when much of Circle Centre Mall’s top floor was a place where adults could pay a price and “bar hop.” She would like to see those mall bars return, along with family-friendly retail and restaurants.

“I think it’s time for us to bring back that entertainment mecca at the mall and create an entertainment trail,” Shackleford said.

The “entertainment trail” would include color-coded signage for venues, restaurants and retail spaces. New signage and marketing would be added to the tunnels that connect the mall with places like Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center.

She would also like to see a portion of Monument Circle closed to traffic.

Part of her plan would include increased marketing of the city outside the state. She said she recently spoke with the state tourism agency, the Indiana Destination Development Corp., about that possibility.

To bring workers downtown, Shackleford said, space should be made for entrepreneurs who would like affordable office space or a coworking space, like P30 on the east side.

On downtown crime, Shackleford said she would work with businesses to address the concerns of owners and workers. To deal with homelessness, she said, she would seek more affordable housing and mental health care services.

“I will definitely focus on providing incentives for more affordable housing, not just downtown, but also in the surrounding neighborhoods,” she said.

Currently, the city requires developers seeking tax-increment financing to reserve 5% of units for people making 30% of the area median income or 10% of units for those making 50% of the area median income.

If elected, Shackleford said, she would create more stringent requirements—more units set aside for affordable housing and lower rents for those units.


Hogsett: Focused on unfinished business

For the incumbent mayor, downtown’s future depends on more residents.

“We need to be focused more aggressively, more perhaps than any time in modern Indianapolis history, on a big vision for living downtown,” Hogsett told IBJ.

He said the city already is making tremendous progress toward this transition, with 1,700 apartments slated to come online this year and next. More than 3,000 apartments have been added downtown in the past five years.

Hogsett pointed to several in-the-works residential developments, including the conversion of the Gold Building from offices to apartments, and to the already-completed conversion of the former AT&T building, now called 220 Meridian, into 260 high-end apartments.

And upcoming investments in downtown, particularly construction of the $150 million Elanco Animal Health headquarters, should help address the decrease in office-worker foot traffic, Hogsett said.

The Elanco campus will be connected by a bridge over the White River to Eleven Park, the $1 billion project by Indianapolis-based Keystone Group that is slated to include a soccer stadium, apartment buildings, a hotel and office space.

IUPUI’s decision to split into separate Purdue University and Indiana University operations in Indianapolis also will play a role in the future of downtown, the mayor said. The development will attract more diverse, young talent who might be enticed to stick around after living downtown.

Regarding the future of Circle Centre Mall, Hogsett said conversations with the state and the ownership group, Circle Centre Development Co., have been ongoing, but he declined to reveal details. He said an announcement will come within months.

The plan will likely include a combination of housing, retail, recreation and entertainment. At his campaign announcement in November, Hogsett said the redevelopment would honor original developers Mel and Herb Simon.

“The future of Circle Centre Mall likely will not be pure retail, and it cannot be pure retail,” he said.

Regarding public safety, Hogsett has said the “single most important issue that the city as a whole faces is gun violence and crime.” But he noted that downtown crime represents just 6% of the city’s total.

He pointed to the $9 million investment the city made in downtown cameras and license plate readers. And he has said he is confident that, as the city continues addressing crime, and as more people begin to spend time downtown post-pandemic, negative perceptions “will evaporate.”

Work on decreasing Indy’s shortage of 200 police officers is being addressed through a marketing campaign, Hogsett said. The department has taken out ads and billboards in peer cities to show potential officers that Indianapolis offers a high starting salary.


Marsiglio: Embrace culture and the sciences

Marsiglio, a college administrator and community activist, said the key to downtown’s future is embracing and marketing the city’s culture while expanding tech and life sciences industries.

Downtown has an image problem, Marsiglio said, and needs more events that entice visitors, especially in places like the Central Canal and Georgia Street.

Marsiglio also said the city doesn’t do enough to highlight what makes it unique, like its diversity and the annual gaming convention it has hosted for years, Gen Con. This “whitewashes” Indy’s culture, he said.

“We need to do more to promote the fact that we are a diverse and inclusive city. We are a city that cares about people,” he said.

The next step should be capitalizing on the availability of students in life sciences and technology, Marsiglio said.

“Why are we not building the next Silicon Valley here in the Midwest? We have access to it,” said Marsiglio, who works at IUPUI.

Although Marsiglio said he doesn’t gamble—his biggest vice is coffee—he thinks a casino is the best use for Circle Centre Mall.

“Why are we gonna let [the Shelbyville and Anderson casinos] have all the tax dollars, especially when it’s [Indianapolis residents] that are going there?” he said.

Although he can’t envision the mall as housing or a homeless shelter, Indianapolis badly needs both of those, he said. Marsiglio was in favor of redeveloping the Jail II site as transitional housing, but that property is slated to become a $120 million mixed-use project called Cole Motor Redevelopment, with apartments, retail and a theater.

Still, Marsiglio said, a former Indiana Department of Correction facility at Randolph and New York streets on the near-east side could become transitional housing or a shelter.

“[Former inmates of] the former Women’s Prison, they have been on the forefront of saying, ‘We want to turn something that was very bad for us into a positive,’” he said.

Downtown’s future depends on dealing with the most vulnerable populations first, he said. “We have to … make sure they’re never left out of the equation.”•


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14 thoughts on “Indianapolis mayoral candidates differ on visions for downtown

  1. If Indianapolis really wants to bring young diverse talent, then
    Indianapolis needs to build a major locally based university.

    Preferably based in the downtown area.

    It’s nice that IUPUI will be divided into IU Indianapolis and Purdue Indianapolis.
    HOWEVER, these will never be more than just a regional campus.

    The bulk of the high tech research will NEVER be done in Indianapolis.
    Only a locally based Universities will do that.

    1. What would prevent them from leaving right after graduation?

      Simply building a new school isn’t going to achieve this. Universities don’t exactly operate under “Field of Dreams” principles.

    2. The people most likely to stay are people already in Indiana. We’ve made two decisions that and have will continue to hurt us as a state.

      Back in 2007–2008, we cut funding on higher education. All of the colleges responded by taking less in-state students and taking more out-of-state students.

      On top of that, for the last 15 years, educational attainment in Indiana has declined so we have less students who are even eligible to go to the big colleges in Indiana.

      Our response to the issue has been, well, the world needs plumbers too. Which is does, but not to the extent of which Indiana is determined to supply them.

      Another approach, for a state flush with cash like Indiana, would be to forgive Indiana students tuition at Indiana colleges if they maintained minimum GPA’s, graduated in the prescribed time, and took jobs in Indiana that they kept for 5-7 years.

    3. Joe B.
      Great points.

      Purdue is a prime example of bringing in out of stater’s and foreigners.
      It has contributed to their ability to freeze tuition, but also to greatly
      enhance their private/public research projects and dollars.
      They are fast becoming more nationally recognized than ever. S

      I do like the idea if possible of reducing student loan payments if the student
      maintains a certain GPA and is willing to vomit to staying in Indiana ( and possibly start
      a business ).

      I think ( if not mistaken ) Tennessee has utilized the reduced tuition for
      state residents and it is paying off greatly for the state in keeping
      talented young people and drawing ENORMOUS economic development projects.

      My point is this.
      Downtown Indianapolis must be more aggressive.
      ***We must also think outside the box.**** We need to also set up forums for
      people to publically introduce ideas and coordinate with others that have
      bold ideas and solutions also.

    1. Some form of that last idea is a good one Joe. Maybe not a 100% forgiveness but 50%? Anyway, good idea.

  2. IU Downtown is where most medical high tech research happens in the State of Indiana…
    Along with all of the student housing they have also built in the last decade to make it more than a regional campus.

    1. This is not just a Field of Dreams daydreaming.

      This is about growing and developing our downtown and city.
      Locally headquartered universities greatly enhance a city and its overall
      downtown growth and development.

      Look at Columbus, Louisville, Cincinnati, Nadhville, Memphis, Atlanta, ect…..
      All cities with major universities headquartered in their downtown areas.
      All cities that have greatly benefited their downtowns vibrancy and quality
      of life.
      A university headquartered in our downtown would bring in a lot of young
      talented people into our city to live, work and play.

      A university headquartered downtown would bring much needed –
      1). High rise housing for density
      2). Young talent that might stay *** If Indianapolis can improve quality if life ***
      3). Bring research projects and dollars
      4). Bring in corporate interest and dollars that we are NOT getter no now.
      5). Fill store fronts that are currently vacant with shops, restaurants, and entertainment

      Many other benefits also that we are not realizing currently in downtown Indianapolis.

      It’s great that IU and Purdue are making plans for Indianapolis. But the bottom
      line is….Indianapolis will NEVER be more than a regional campus for
      I.U. or Purdue. The bulk of all their research will remain in Bloomington
      and West Lafayette.

      Indianapolis is NOT drawing any corporate interest in our downtown or city
      overall for that matter locally or from out of towners.

      This long term plan that I’ve proposed is just one major piece of Mosiac puzzle
      for turning downtown into a true destination for locals and out of towners.

  3. There are many other things that Downtown Indianapolis could currently do to fill
    Vacancies and create demand.

    My above proposal is but one piece of the greater mosaic puzzle
    to help our downtown become a great downtown that people will
    want to visit, live, work, and play.

  4. Could Butler or University of Indy be that viable downtown university?

    On another note cleaning the city up so it looks presentable would be a good idea. Drive down the dilapidated highways and streets with pothole’s galore, a quilt of patchwork pavement and dirt and trash and then ask yourself why people are not staying in Indy. We have a lot of good things going for us here but we’re missing some of the easy stuff.

  5. This thread is a perfect example of the problem.

    I proposed a big audacious goal – tuition forgiveness for Indiana residence if they meet certain criteria. Keep good grades, get done promptly, get a job and reside in Indiana for 5-7 years, voila, we forgive your tuition.

    Heck, let’s go one further. All those international students graduating from IU and Purdue? Staple a green card to their advanced diplomas (masters, phD, etc.) if they make the same commitment.

    What’s the response? Maybe just 50%, maybe make them start a business. Simply put, too big a risk.

    Which way do you want it? You claim you want to attract businesses. You’re not doing that with little fun incremental stuff. You have to do something big that gets attention.

    Why did Purdue get a lot of attention? They had a big goal like a tuition freeze. They didn’t do some thing incremental like “we increase less than others”.

    If you’re not going to do something big and bold, you’re just doing what Hoosiers have always done, and that ain’t good enough.

    And, no, the concept of dropping income taxes “just like other states” isn’t good enough either.

    1. Agreed on the “ staple a Green Card to the foreign students “ if they are
      high tech researchers and will commit to living in Indianapolis and start
      a business, Then
      HEll Yes!!

      I’ve said for a long time that we have enormous pipeline of talent right up
      I-65 at a place called Purdue Universuty. Let’s pipe this talent into Indianapolis.
      Let’s give them a Green Card if they will commit to living here and start a business.

      Dropping the state income tax by itself is not the answer unto itself.
      But it is an important piece of the puzzle.

      Indianapolis must be bold.
      Indianapolis must think outside the box.
      Indianapolis must cross corroborate between economic development agencies
      and with the public in a public forums.

      Our awww shucks attitude is NOT working.

      Downtown Indianapolis is stagnating compared to our peer cities.

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