Community leaders are encouraging residents to revitalize and support the heart of Indianapolis in a new marketing effort to draw business back downtown.
“This is our city,” a video advertisement for the campaign states. “It’s time to get back to the heart of who we are.”
The launch of the “Back Downtown” campaign through Downtown Indy Inc. comes as frustration has mounted over the impact that the coronavirus pandemic, social justice protests and rioting had on the area over the past few months.
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Some business owners and downtown employees have said the place is in the worst shape they have ever seen. They point to uncleanliness, drug activity and safety concerns.
Others remain optimistic.
Kite Realty Group Trust CEO and President Tom McGowan, who co-chairs the Downtown Recovery Committee that Downtown Indy launched in July, says the area is improving.
“Let’s not focus our attention on our fall, the punches we’ve taken,” McGowan said during Downtown Indy’s second “state of downtown” address on Thursday. “Let’s focus on the bounce — and that’s what we plan to do.”
Here are the main issues facing downtown and how the city plans to address them:
The city last week announced $750,000 for safety efforts pulled from the downtown tax increment finance district, which is comprised of existing property tax revenues from the downtown area.
The efforts include the installation of two security cameras at up to 150 properties. The cameras, known as b-link cameras, are linked to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s monitoring system. Another two mobile camera units will be deployed in crime hot spots.
More than 25 businesses inquired about the initiative in just a week, according to Downtown Indy.
The money also will increase the number of hours that off-duty Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers will patrol the area on foot and bike. Those officers, paid for by Downtown Indy Inc., will increase their hours from 20 to 80 per week.
The new shift schedule from about 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. begins Sep. 1.
A new eight-member safety ambassadors team, comprised of civilians and IMPD cadets, also will walk the streets beginning in mid-September.
IMPD also is increasing partnerships between its narcotics unit and homeless unit to focus on areas with increased activity, according to Downtown Indy.
Beautification and cleanliness
Business owners have expressed concerns with people defecating in streets and alleys and an increase in litter around Monument Circle.
The city placed portable toilets and handwashing stations throughout the area right at the outset of the pandemic but will be increasing the number of toilets from nine to 16.
Downtown Indy also announced a two-day beautification effort for this Friday and Sept. 11, during which civic leaders will gather on Monument Circle to clean, weed and landscape around the area. Leaders will hang new street pole banners intended to invoke civic pride.
Business owners and social service agencies have reported seeing an uptick in people experiencing homelessness.
The city has relied heavily on federal Cares Act funding to alleviate the strain on local homelessness shelters, paying $1.8 million for 180 hotel rooms.
Pandemic aid: Indianapolis received millions in Cares Act funding, but likely not enough.
Part of that money funds an effort run by the Damien Center and the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention to provide non-congregate housing for those at a high risk for the coronavirus.
The money also funds hotel rooms for the continued operation of the Reuben Engagement Center, which offers shelter for those experiencing homelessness and substance abuse.
The city awarded an additional $2.7 million in federal grants from the Cares Act to seven organizations battling homelessness.
Many of those organizations are providing rapid rehousing, offering up to 24 months of rental support and other supportive services, Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett previously told IndyStar.
The city also anticipates $7 million in other federal grants that will help house 500 households experiencing homelessness, according to Bennett.
This week, the city also unveiled an employment effort for jobless residents known as the Rapid Re-employment Response plan.
Economic activity and hotel demand has plummeted downtown following the cancellation of major conventions.
Downtown hotel occupancy rates have dwindled, from 76.3% in March of 2019 to 28.5% for the same period this year, according to research and data company STR.
In response, the city launched a $1 million tourism campaign in July to encourage Indiana residents to explore the state’s capital.
The campaign, funded by federal Cares Act money, offered residents 50% off select hotel rooms downtown.
Visit Indy says the campaign generated $667,000 in visitor spending with over 1,100 reservations as of its 34th day in action. The agency tracked the figures through the discount code that residents enter to book their reservations, said Chris Gahl, marketing and communications senior vice president
The new “Back Downtown” campaign seeks to instill pride in the area again, encouraging residents to eat, play and shop downtown.
“We need to take care of our people, we need to take care of our neighborhoods, we need to take care of our streets, our businesses, our sites and our landmarks,” the campaign advertisement says. “Because the heart of Indianapolis is downtown.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: ‘This is our city’: New campaign encourages residents to come to downtown Indianapolis