The future of productive development and revitalization in the United Northwest Area (UNWA) of Indianapolis is being jeopardized.
A funding tool that was established in 1995 in order to spawn economic development in a blighted area has been stealthily moved from this fund and placed in the Department of Public Works (DPW) budget. This money has been taken and the Ballard Administration refuses to correct this inappropriate action.
No other residential neighborhood in the city of Indianapolis that has a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district with more than $3 million dollars accrued.
Stakeholders in this neighborhood have been meeting since 2007 to chart a plan for revitalization.
Consider the following:
In the waning months of 2008, even as neighborhood stakeholders are working on an implementation plan with the DMD, the city administration transferred $1.7 million from the TIF’s interest bearing account to a non-interest bearing account in DPW’s budget. DPW did not know that these funds were to be spent in UNWA. Now, after this breach has been exposed by UNWA community leadership, the Ballard Administration is forcing the neighborhood to spend this $1.7 million on sidewalks or pavement before the neighborhood’s plan is complete – while we lose thousands in interest earnings for development.
Neighborhood stakeholders met with Deputy Mayor of Neighborhoods Olgen Williams in January and a commitment was sought that would allow these funds to at least remain unspent until after the plan was complete. To date, the administration has refused to return the funds. Community leaders have been told by city officials that the Mayor’s Office and DPW will decide themselves how to spend the funds, without input from the UNWA Community.
Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) Director Maury Plambeck is facilitating the transfer of parcels bought by the city with UNWA TIF dollars, to developers without reimbursement.
Bond Bank Director Kevin Taylor flatly refused to even consider the use of bond financing as a development tool for revitalization in the UNWA neighborhood.
All of this raises a few basic questions.
Why are good efforts by neighborhood stakeholders to develop a plan and be good stewards of public resources available to them being ignored? Is there any truth to the thought that the demographics of this neighborhood have caused this callous treatment?
Why are powerful development finance tools like bond financing being reserved for other neighborhoods and taken off the table in UNWA?
The reason for the creation of the TIF was not to do piecemeal projects but to leverage funds to do a comprehensive project that will lead to greater development.
Other neighborhoods are being strongly encouraged to collaborate and develop comprehensive plans for development to guide investment, but the UNWA neighborhood is being pushed into spending $1.7 million dollars before its plan for strategic investment in the UNWA neighborhood is finished. Why?
Mayor Ballard has repeatedly said that he is committed to neighborhoods and we believe he is sincere. That commitment to neighborhoods is not evident however based on the actions of others in his administration. Why are the officials of this administration actively working against those reasonable goals? We hope he will correct it. What we do and don’t do now will determine the health of this neighborhood and what type of neighborhood we have for the next 50 years.
Efforts to appropriately utilize TIF funds should not be ignored but honored by the Ballard Administration.
The resolve of unified stakeholders of the UNWA community should not be underestimated nor ignored. We do understand the injustice of this issue and refuse to just watch as opportunities for healthy development in our neighborhood are squandered for political expediency. We choose to challenge this administration. A revitalized community serves all concerned as UNWA, a community replete with resources, becomes a community of choice and thereby strengthens the tax base the city desperately needs. Read more about our concerns at www.stopthehijack.wordpress.com.
Dr. Ivan Douglas Hicks
Dr. Ivan Douglas Hicks is senior minister, First Baptist Church North Indianapolis and Convener of the Phoenix Collaborative Task Force. He can be reached at (317) 925-2672.