Mass. Ave. project held up by political wrangling

Mass. Ave.

Some Indianapolis business owners say a political fight between the mayor and council Democrats is coming at the cost of progress. It's keeping one key project from getting off the ground while both sides battle over how to pay for it.

The project is a mixed-use development proposed for Massachusetts Avenue. The mayor's office wants it to go where IFD Station #7 is, along with an IFD administration building and credit union. (Under the plan, all three would be relocated.)

The mayor's office wants to help finance the project by expanding the downtown TIF district to include Massachusetts Avenue. A TIF district allows any new taxes generated by a new project to be reinvested in the area. The money, for instance, can be used for things like street and infrastructure improvements.

Council Democrats, who just led a study on the city's TIF districts, worry they're used too often and with no sunset date, funneling tax dollars away from schools, libraries and other entities.

Democratic Councilor Brian Mahern said they want "a new mechanism is place for reviewing" TIF projects before signing off on any new ones.

Cassie Stockcamp, who heads the Athenaeum Foundation said she and others along Mass. Avenue were expecting a spring groundbreaking.

"We're frustrated. We're going to leave another construction season if we don't get this thing moving. Mass. Avenue is doing really well, but in terms of continuing to move the Avenue this is a critical piece," she said.

While both ends of Mass. Avenue include retail and restaurants, the fire station site is along a two-block stretch with the Barton Apartment Complex across the street.

Whitley Lewis, who regularly walks the length of the avenue, said, "This stretch feels like an empty block in between rows of restaurants and retail. When I'm walking it seems like an open gap."

Elizabeth Garber, who owns The Best Chocolate in Town at the north end, said a new mixed-use development would help not just with density but connectivity.

"It feels like [Mass. Avenue] is all the way down at that end and then down here at this end - just having the continuous walkability would be very helpful," she said.

Marsha Hanou, who works on Mass. Avenue and lives nearby, said she'd prefer to keep station #7 where it is.

"Even though some say it ruins the ability to anchor the two areas, I think it's a positive thing to have and I feel secure knowing it's there," she said.

A spokesman for the mayor said after taking requests for proposals, they've narrowed the list of finalists to three. He said they've also identified a nearby site to relocate the fire station and administration building.

Mahern wouldn't say how it would take for the council to decide on expanding the downtown district or adopting new rules.

"The risks are substantial" for moving too quickly he said. "We have to have a high level of confidence that [a project] doesn't just sound good, but it's the right thing to do."