Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Georgia Street Set To Become The Next City Market

As a parting gift to the Indianapolis political insiders who have been so generous in handing out public dollars to the Mapleton-Fall Creek CDC that she has run for the last several years and her husband's printing business, City-County Councilor Jackie Nytes is sponsoring an ordinance that will permanently turn control of Georgia Street downtown over to Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. to become a permanent sink hole into which public funds are continuously dumped just like City Market.

Proposal No. 339 amends the city's ordinance governing the leasing of city-owned property to allow the city to enter into a lease with an "eligible corporation" outside the normal procedures required for leasing city-owned property. The special exemption from normal leasing procedures currently only applies to the City Market property, which is run by a nonprofit corporation that has managed the property extremely ineffectively, and which has required an infusion of millions of public tax dollars every few years since its inception.

Readers will recall the public furor that erupted this fall when Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. took it upon itself to rename Georgia Street between Capital Avenue and Pennsylvania Street. The city has dumped more than $12 million into remaking the street from a public thoroughfare into a pedestrian/entertainment area for visitors to downtown conventions and sporting events, including steam-heated street and sidewalks. The downtown corporate promoting arm decided that the name Georgia Street didn't fit into the marketing plans for this new downtown venue. Mayor Greg Ballard pulled the idea of renaming the street from the agenda when the renaming became a big issue in the middle of his re-election campaign. With another term safely in hand, Ballard is now ready to hand control of the street over to Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. to do with as it pleases with the help of Councilor Nytes, who has just been rewarded with that six-figure job heading up the public library she had wanted for years.

The very fact that a decision has been made to remove daily control of Georgia Street from the city and place it in the hands of the publicly-financed corporation should be a strong signal of where this one is headed. Let's face it. Georgia Street is no longer a public street. Get over that fact if you had any thoughts otherwise. It is officially becoming another venue that the downtown convention industry will have to market exclusively for its benefit. The only thing about it that will remain public is the obligation of taxpayers to fork over millions of dollars for the cost of maintaining it and making new improvements to it whenever the downtown elites get an itch to do a makeover to fit the latest claim of what is needed to "save downtown."

UPDATE: Proposal No. 362 is a companion ordinance that adopts the finding that Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. is the appropriate agency to operate and manage this new "event space" formerly known as Georgia Street. The lease agreement is for an intial period of 18 months, which can be renewed for successive 5-year terms. At the Administration & Public Finance Committee hearing today, both proposals were heard. Councilor Nytes wanted to assure the public it is just a lease and not the sale of property, which she says was the biggest concern people had raised with her about the proposal because of the portion of the code it pertains to that deals with the disposal of public property. So we're not going to sell Georgia Street; we're just turning over exclusive control to an unelected nonprofit corporation that will make it available for privately-sponsored event uses that would be closed to the public. The nonprofit corporation, of course, will get to keep any revenues derived from leasing out Georgia Street for private events. Nobody seemed to question exactly what IDI's expertise or knowledge is in maintaining and operating a public event space. It has no such experience to be sure. The Capital Improvement Board has been the entity set up to manage the convention center and the sports facilities. Yet, IDI is now going to be in the business of operating a venue for conventions and sports-related events. Nytes, who as usual pretends to be an expert on everything, determined that IDI was the best partner because the CIB and the ICVA already had their hands full.

IDI's Tamara Zahn says it has made some assumptions of the revenues it will generate and the annual costs of maintaining Georgia Street, including $1 million in revenues in its first year of operation. She assures us the dollars will be segregated and accounted for to the city--it is a public street after all she begrudgingly conceded. Zahn says that ongoing maintenance demands will utilize any revenues. The Georgia Street venue will be totally shut off and used exclusively as the Super Bowl Village for a 10-day period leading up to the Super Bowl. The City will kick in $1 million of ReBuild Indy funds to kick start funding for this endeavor. You can bet that $1 million is just a start of the millions of dollars that will get diverted for this undertaking over the coming years. The rubber stamp committee passed the ordinances without any opposition. Councilor Maggie Smith, who will become the council president next year said she was voting no simply because she did not have sufficient time to review the proposal in advance of the meeting. The administration didn't even feel the need to brief the incoming president on this last-minute maneuver through the lame duck council. I'm sure that was the same for the other members, but they are simply robots who do what they are ordered to do. The only saving grace is that most of the committee members (Cockrum, Day, Malone and Sanders) won't be returning next year. No public input; no public accountability.

Committee Chairman Marilyn Pfisterer did treat the committee to her best impersonation of "The Office's" Michael Scott. Remember the episode where he made a presentation to Ryan's college business class and tossed out various candy bar brand names that matched the points he wanted to make in his presentation? Yeah, she prepared a treat basket for each of the departing council members filled with candy brand names that were descriptive of them. How sweet. If she could only put as much thought into understanding what the hell it is she is voting on at council meetings, we might be able to elevate the discussion above the level of third grade students.


Paul K. Ogden said...

I think the feds would be very interested in this development. A lot of the money to redo the street came from the federal government and now they're giving it away? It might violate the promises the city made to get that federal money.

Gary R. Welsh said...

You give the feds too much credit, Paul. Have you seen the long list of bogus projects upon which federal stimulus dollars have been spent? This one is peanuts by comparison.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Paul, don't forget that the City is asking the MDC to 'reimburse' $40 million of street improvements downtown, including the money contributed by the feds, so we can balance the 2012 budget.

The idea that IDI is qualified to handle any city property can be disabused by just looking at how much more it costs us taxpayers when they act as the middle man. Start with those $200,000 salaries and how everyone is a Vice President except one person, who is President of IDI.

This is all a ruse to infuse more public money into a bad organization that should be funded by local businesses, if at all, not to do any good for Georgia Street or the taxpayers.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I don't see how they can justify pulling money from the TIF funds to reimburse the city for money that came out of the feds' pocket and not the city's.