Campaign to establish Economic Improvement District downtown in sudden death overtime

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – After nearly a year of meetings and petitions, the campaign to establish an Economic Improvement District downtown has slipped into overtime as organizers are counting on a last minute Hail Mary referendum to push the proposal over the top and survive long enough for consideration by the City-County Council and Mayor Joe Hogsett.

The EID, backed by Downtown Indy Inc., would initially tax downtown property owners $3.16 million a year for 10 years in order to raise funds to maintain and improve the core of the Circle City.

State law requires more than 50% of the Mile Square’s 1,167 commercial and residential property owners to approve the EID and those property owners must represent more than 50% of the value of downtown properties.

DII Senior Vice President Bob Schultz said the downtown marketing group’s campaign, which was set to end last Friday, was “hovering right at 50%” and “we gave ourselves (time) to convert outstanding verbal support for the EID to actual signed petitions in hand. (We just got signed petitions from Cummins, Anthem and Amerimar.)”

Other large downtown property owners, represented by the Indiana Apartment Association, have refused to support the EID despite, in the case of the developer Flaherty & Collins which built 360 Market Square, receiving tens of millions of dollars in incentives and tax breaks to construct in the Mile Square.

“Downtown Indy’s proposed Economic Improvement District (EID) has not demonstrated a real need for this new tax that will have an impact on affordability of rental properties within the mile square,” IAA President Lynn Peterson wrote in a statement to FOX59 in February.

Last month she said her association’s position hadn’t changed and the EID lacked a definitive budget.

“The Indiana Apartment Association…became obstructionists in their unfounded statements,” Schultz wrote in a statement to FOX59 late Monday afternoon. “We have made multiple attempts to meet with them and go through the plan. They have refused to respond to us. Yet, they have no trouble interpreting what we have studied for years and what has become best practices in 1,100 other cities.”

If approved, the EID would be overseen by a board of 15 property owners and administered by DII, which would hire 10-15 employees to become downtown ambassadors scrubbing sidewalks, planting flowers, sweeping streets, pulling weeds and cleaning up graffiti.

DII’s proposed budget also includes $700,000 to address the homeless issue which Visit Indy cites as detrimental to the city’s convention business.

Projected improvements to downtown would include Wi-Fi on Monument Circle, more bicycle racks, improved signage, public restrooms and a unified marketing plan.

Residential property owners would pay $100 a year toward the EID while commercial property owners would pay 12.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value.

The referendum was intended to pass and be presented to the council in late 2017.

Should this campaign fail, DII would be hard pressed to launch another effort as the rules for EIDs change July 1, requiring 60% approval rate of property owners and a shorter window to gain signatures.

The Woodruff Place community recently established an EID to provide for the maintenance of common areas such as greenspace and fountains along its boulevards.

Merchants and business owners on Virginia Avenue approaching Fountain Square are considering a similar EID.

“As all signed petitions are verified, we don’t want to just wait around in hopes that we can get all outstanding signatures in before having the ordinance is introduced on the Council’s agenda this week,” wrote Schultz. “It’s just too close to be comfortable. – so we keep asking. And we’ll keep asking for signatures even after we present a successful petition during the Council process, which it is our goal to have completed in June with an EID ordinance in place for the Mayor’s signature by the end of June.”

State law mandates only a 51% majority of property owners for the council and mayor to consider the EID, though some officials have indicated they would like to see stronger support before approving the downtown levy which is intended to augment and not replace city spending.

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