Mayor Ballard makes push for downtown development, education

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"We cannot take our foot off the pedal now."

Mayor Greg Ballard was talking about educational opportunities for Indianapolis children, but that was the theme of his State of the City speech Friday.

The mayor talked about revisiting plans to find a developer for the Market Square Arena site in downtown Indianapolis. He pointed to new developments like CityWay as examples of how downtown is thriving, and he also talked about how education and mass transit fit into his overall strategy.

"From the exciting new plans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to the Mass Ave redevelopment, to a new redevelopment partnership between our western townships, surrounding communities and the airport, to a parking garage the Broad Ripple neighborhood has wanted for over 30 years now, things are happening," the mayor said, speaking to a large crowd at the Alexander Hotel.

"After nearly 12 years and two false starts, the time is right – and the economy is ready – for the city to take another serious shot at redeveloping the former site of Market Square Arena. So Monday, my administration will go to the marketplace seeking plans and proposals to turn the north lot of the former MSA site into something better than surface parking," he said.

"We know there is a lot of interest. We've already been approached with some interesting ideas. But make no mistake, I want to be bold. It has been nearly 36 years since "Elvis left the building," the mayor said.

Existing projects also came in for praise in the mayor's speech.

Ballard praised CityWay, a project near Eli Lilly, saying it is transforming the neighborhood and serving as a connector for thousands of employees to downtown Indianapolis.

"That's not too bad for a project that was supposedly 'controversial' simply because the city hadn't done it before," the mayor said.

Panhandling ban

The mayor also proposed a panhandling ban in busy downtown areas, saying it was one of the biggest complaints his office gets from downtown visitors and that some people actively avoid going downtown because of begging.

The panhandling ban would prohibit both aggressive and non-aggressive panhandling, like people shaking cups and holding signs. It would expand the prohibition on panhandling outside of downtown between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.  And it would prohibit panhandling near intersections, crosswalks, building entrances or parking meters.

Block 400

He pointed to the rundown Bank One Operations Center's transformation into a mixed-use development called "Artistry" and the recent groundbreaking on Block 400, which covers the block with West Michigan Street to the north and Vermont Street to the south, in between Senate and Capitol Avenues. The project will cost $85 million and feature a Marsh grocery store, several smaller stores and restaurants, 487 apartments, and parking garages with 1,500 spaces.

"This single project will add more retail to our downtown than any other development since Circle Centre Mall opened," the mayor said, referring to the Block 400 project.

He talked about City Market's west wing, which has seen success with the Tomlinson Tap bar. City Market has struggled in past years after a renovation that saw delays and put some vendors out of business.


The mayor pointed to 3,300 new job commitments arranged by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and said he worked "with existing companies to retain over 8,000 jobs, and attracted commitments to invest over 600 million dollars in Indianapolis last year."


"An equally important economic challenge is making sure our residents have the education and tools needed to fill these jobs," he said.

The mayor explained the population trend of the city growing by nearly two-thirds over the past 60 years, while the urban core population has dropped nearly the same amount during the same period. Mostly the city is seeing middle-income families with school-aged children leaving. Ballard said it's vital to "improve the educational outcome for students at our schools."

Ballard mentioned 26 mayor-sponsored charter schools that currently have 8,500 students, with 11 more such schools in the works. He said 82 percent of those schools got A-C grades from the state.

"Neighborhoods of Educational Opportunity will change the discussion in education reform from overall school performance to a child's access to a high-quality seat in a classroom in or near their neighborhood," he said.

The mayor's goal is to create 30,000 new "high-quality education seats" in Indianapolis over the next ten years. Ballard says he's working with groups "including members of the IPS board, The Mind Trust, the United Negro College Fund, Urban League and many others."

"In the case of a great public school – let's support it and duplicate it to other neighborhoods in need.  In areas where the school is right on the cusp of greatness, let's help push them over the top.  And in areas where the schools are failing, let's replicate or expand a successful school into that neighborhood," he said.

"No student should lose out on opportunity because of a zip code. No student should lose out on opportunity because of the size of their parents' paycheck," he said.

BuildIndy and mass transit

The mayor also discussed RebuildIndy's $560 million in improvements over two and a half years, tripling the amount of repaving and fixing over 50 bridges. The city has also demolished nearly 2,000 abandoned homes.

"But paving and improving streets isn't enough. We also need to help people who do not have or do not want cars.  A stronger mass transit system will help people seeking jobs travel to the places where the jobs exist," he said, citing the need to attract young, talented people to the city by offering better mass transit options.
"When I grew up, young people moved to the job," said Ballard. "Today, young people move to the type of city they want to live in, and then build their life there.".