Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grow Mass Avenue A Shill For Developers?

In recent weeks, a new group has sprung into existence claiming to represent the interests of Mass Avenue business owners who want to see a TIF district expanded to include the entire business corridor supposedly because that's the only way the 500 block of Mass Avenue, which is currently home to a fire station, can be redeveloped. Fellow blogger Matt Stone uncovered the fact that Jennifer Wagner of Darvel Communications registered the domain name for Wagner's husband, Gordon Hendry, is an executive with CBRE, a real estate brokerage firm that stands to make a million-dollar plus brokerage commission as the city's agent if and when the fire station property is redeveloped. Wagner is also a paid spokesperson for the Indiana Democratic Party and has recently angered some local Democrats because she has gone out of her way to undercut arguments made by council Democrats that reforms in the city's TIF policy are needed before any further TIF expansions occur and more information is needed to justify the major expansion of a downtown TIF district to encompass a business corridor that has been booming despite the economic depression that has hit most areas hard. Wagner even berated council Democrats for criticizing the double-digit pay raises Mayor Ballard recently handed out to top members of his staff while he demands cuts from other city agencies to close a $50-$60 million budget deficit. The irony is that Wagner once was Ballard's biggest critics when she published a blog highly critical of him, "The Accidental Mayor."

What's interesting is that the Mass Avenue business owners already have their own business organization, the Mass Avenue Merchants Association, which represents their business concerns. Why was it necessary to form Grow Mass Ave? Is it possible that many of the area merchants aren't buying into the agenda being advanced by Grow Mass Ave? I've personally spoken to several business owners along Mass Avenue, who are doing very well and question the need for the creation of a TIF district or an economic improvement district (EID) that is being pushed by Grow Mass Ave. The EID would collect assessments on all property within a designated district if support can be garnered from owners of a majority of the assessed property within the district and the city-council approves its formation. Assessments collected from the businesses would be used exclusively within the proposed district. One business owner, who is opposed to the idea, shared with me the fact that proponents of the EID are even trying to collect assessments on residential property, whose owners would benefit little from the EID's expenditures, and extend the reach of the district well beyond the borders of Mass Ave.

The face of Grow Mass Ave currently appears to be Cassie Stockamp, who is not a business owner. She is the President of the Athenaeum Foundation, a nonprofit that oversees the historic Athenaeum building adjacent from the block Wagner's husband is trying to redevelop on behalf of the city so he can earn his big-time commission. There are rumors that the foundation may have been promised some money to make repairs to its building if the TIF district is approved. The Ballard administration is currently reviewing proposals from three developers, each of whom are anticipating major public subsidies to undertake the redevelopment of the block. Stockamp has claimed without substantiation that Mass Ave business owners will suffer harm if the TIF district is not created.

In the past couple of years, the corridor has seen continued redevelopment despite the depressed economic condition without the assistance of a TIF. On the north end of the corridor, Riley Area Development CDC is just completing a mixed use project, Trail Side, that involved razing a building formerly owned by Center Township and redeveloping a half block area into 69 affordable apartments with ground level retail/commercial space and off-street parking. The Cunningham Group opened up its second restaurant on the Avenue, Bru Burger, which has enjoyed great success, along with its first restaurant, Mesh. A microbrewery is slated to open up a block from the Avenue at the corner of Park and North, and a major mixed use project, which will cover almost an entire city block at the corner of Michigan and College, is slated to kick off next year without any government assistance.

What should be abundantly clear to the public is that a propaganda machine has been put into place in an effort to steer tens of millions of tax dollars into the hands of private developers to redevelop an area that has already proven that it can sustain current and future development without siphoning off much-needed property tax revenues from other taxing districts. Unfortunately, the mainstream media has simply been shilling for the Ballard administration and the private developers/architects, who stand to benefit handsomely from government handouts. This is an outrage when you consider that basic city services must be reduced because of the lack of revenues to finance them. The public must rise up and demand accountability from their elected officials. If Mayor Ballard gets his way, you will be paying higher property taxes on your homes, while these fat cats walk off with millions of taxpayer dollars. Call your city councilor and the mayor's office today and demand that they represent the public's interest, not the fat cat contributors who are lining their pockets with campaign contributions, free dinners at five-star restaurants and tickets to sporting events.


Koz said...

I know it is hard for you not to immediately jump to a conspiracy theory, but you ever think that maybe Wagner just supports the project on her own? Even at risk at pissing off her own party?

She is *actually* a small busniess owner of Mass Ave herself, sormthing your post leaves out. If you are going to insinuate motives on someone, you could at least name her company correctly: she's at Mass Ave PR

Gary R. Welsh said...

She's a paid PR flack who does not represent the Mass Ave business owners, and she rents so she wouldn't be paying the EID tax she wants to impose on others.

M Theory said...

Jennifer Wagner is no friend to anyone who pays property tax.

Folks from the 2007 Property tax protests and tea parties can remember her blog called "Taking Down Words" was the first to publish the derogatory label of "teabagger".

Her blog's espousing of this label included many of the city's elderly, who after 30 years of home ownership, found they could no longer afford their property with the increased tax.