Monday, August 27, 2012

Mass Ave Business Owners and Residents Tell Grow Mass Avenue Where To Go

I've previously written about how an organization called "Grow Mass Ave" was concocted by real estate developers and city contractors anxious to get their hands on tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies for their private development projects in the booming Mass Avenue business district if they get their way and gain approval for a new TIF district, which not only includes undeveloped land, but also already successfully developed projects on Mass Avenue. In addition to creating the TIF, these self-dealing insiders are also trying to get property owners along Mass Avenue to assess a new property tax within a newly-designated taxing district under the state's Economic Improvement District law. In order to gain approval of the EID, the proponents must obtain approval of a majority of the property owners within the proposed district who represent a majority of the assessed valuation within the taxing district. The EID tax would be imposed at the rate of $240 for each $200,000 of assessed valuation. I've told you that my discussions with Mass Avenue business owners led me to believe that many do not feel there is a need to create a new TIF district, let alone an EID. Given the reaction of residents and business owners at a recent meeting, my assessment was dead-on.

The Urban Times, a free newspaper delivered to neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area, has a story in its latest edition titled, "Some Mass Ave residents chafe over EID." It begins:

The residents who attended the meeting, perhaps about 20 people, want no part of it-no part of a plan that would lay a surcharge on their property taxes to create a fund to be used to maintain and promote the area.
"We don't want to be taxed anymore," one resident said loudly during the 90-minute session at the Athenaeum which drew about 45 people, but was dominated by several residents and a few property owners who condemned the idea.
One of the issues that have particularly irked residents who live along Mass Ave is the fact that they had been lied to about being included in the EID. Proponents claimed only business property would be taxed, but that turns out to be a patent lie. Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is. Proponents say they were referring to single-family homes being excluded, a definition which does not includes condominiums, which are what you find along Mass Ave.

The district map presented at the meeting showed an area which includes all property which fronts on Mass Ave, plus most square blocks directly off the Avenue dominated by commercial development. But while the preliminary plan includes no single-family homes, it does currently include the Real Silk Condos, Mill No. 9. It also includes condos in the Beilouny building at 747 Mass Ave and the 3 Mass Condos.
Corrie Meyer of Schmidt Associates, a Mass Ave firm which has been engaged to steer the effort, said those properties were included in the plan because they match  the feel and character of Mass Ave.
Meyer's rationale for including the condo properties is total crap. They were included because that was the only way the proponents could make the rates paid by the business owners, who will be the primary beneficiaries of the new tax, reasonably palpable to them. Many of the affected condos have values ranging from the $400,000 to the $1,000,000 price range. Those homeowners could be hit with an additional tax of between $480 and close to $1,000 annually. The additional tax would be double that amount if it is rented out as income-producing property as a number of these condos are.

After so many residents and business owners showed up to throw cold water on the new tax idea, the proponents now say they are no longer shooting for approval of the EID by year's end. "We're going to take our time moving through this to make sure the plan is fair and equitable to everyone." One Mass Ave business owner told me that she didn't understand why the Mass Ave Merchants Association doesn't approach its members about paying higher annual dues to the Association, which she said she would gladly pay as long as she felt the Association was putting the money to good use to fund projects beneficial to the area business owners. Some of the proposed uses of the money falls under what Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. is already suppose to be doing with the millions of dollars it receives in government funding annually, including promoting commercial activity or public events and providing security for public areas. IDI is now focusing its efforts heavily on promoting Georgia Street, instead, because it has a financial stake in making money off Georgia Street, while it makes no money promoting other business districts like Mass Ave. See what your hair-brained idea to give control of Georgia Street to IDI caused, Ms. Nytes?

The proponents say they are looking to levy about $137,000 annually to benefit the Mass Ave Art & Theater District. The Mass Ave CDC is currently levying a 25-cent ticket tax on every ticket sold at the Murat Theater. The Urban Times did not report what that tax raises annually or what purposes those funds are to be used. Proponents of the EID complain that they sought $29,700 for streetscape maintenance and legal fees from the CDC, but it gave them only $12,000. It requested a $25,000 grant from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful but received an award of only $5,000. The proponents cite these two examples to explain why they face a shortfall in funding totaling $37,000. It looks to me like some of the proponents who were so much in favor of more than doubling parking rates under the Ballard administration's privatization of the city's parking meters, which is hitting their customers hard in the wallet, should have been looking for a share of those higher parking meter fees to fund a new parking garage in the neighborhood, which is badly needed, and some of these street improvements they're now clamoring to tax others to fund. Instead, their customers are paying to build a parking garage in Broad Ripple that will be owned entirely by one of Mayor Ballard's largest campaign contributors and benefit only business owners in Broad Ripple.

There is an even larger question that Indianapolis City-County Councilors, who are being asked to approve a TIF district that includes much of Mass Ave: If the business owners and residents along Mass Ave feel that they are already taxed enough to pay for services that would benefit their neighborhood, then why should potentially a hundred million dollars or more in assessed value be removed indefinitely from the property tax rolls at the expense of funding our schools, libraries, public safety and other basic government services through the creation of a TIF district? We also wonder why the TIF district includes the mixed use Trail Side project, which has already been completed, the five-story Barton Block apartments that have already been approved and upon which construction will commence this fall, and the Whitsett Group's plan to develop a mixed use development on two-thirds of a city block just off Mass Ave at the corner of Michigan Street and College Avenue. I'm having a problem with the "but for" excuse for creating the TIF. City-County Councilors should also press the Ballard administration to release proposals to redevelop areas it wants to see redeveloped with TIF funds. The administration is refusing to release this information, and it may be withholding the information because there are proposals out there that could be accomplished without TIF funds. I've been told that Simon Property Group may be interested, for example, in developing the Coca-Cola lot into a small outdoor mall fashioned after Carmel's Clay Terrace that would be anchored by a Whole Foods store. Hasn't the Ballard administration already been told that this project could occur even if a TIF district is not created? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sadly, the Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee in a bizarre move sent the planned TIF expansion to the full council tonight on a 5-1 vote even after the committee's chairman, Councilor Steve Talley, had declared the meeting adjourned and departed the meeting. The remaining councilors reconvened the meeting and passed the measure, which is being pushed by Councilor Vop Osili, an architect/engineer who may personally gain financially if the subsidized projects demanded by the downtown mafia see the light of day, engineered approval of the unneeded TIF district expansions. I don't use that term "mafia" lightly. Frankly, I would rather deal with the mafia law enforcement supposedly sees as a threat to the public's safety and welfare. Unlike the downtown mafia, the other mafia at least plays by the rules it makes. The downtown mafia lies and cheats under color of law to shake us down for more of our tax dollars at every turn to line their own pockets. Personally, I would rather pay money to the mafia extortionists. At least I would know that I would benefit from the payments, and I would no what the rules by which I must comply are up front. The bribes and threats being made by the downtown mafia to gain council approval for these TIF districts makes Lincoln Plowman's $5,000 cash bribe look pretty insignificant.

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