To see the rest of the article click here. Also to read another IBJ Property Lines blog piece on the connector written by Cory Schouten, click here.
An enclosed pedestrian walkway connecting the downtown PNC Center with the Indianapolis Artsgarden received final approval Thursday morning.
The Regional Center Hearing Examiner OK’d the design of the project after the Metropolitan Development Commission in October approved providing $600,000 in city funds to help build the connector.
The Greater Indianapolis Bond Bank will finance half of the $1.2 million project by using tax increment financing from the downtown district.
The building’s property manager, Massachusetts-based Reit Management & Research LLC, intends to start construction in March and finish by mid-2011.
Despite support from city leaders, plans for the fourth walkway drew objections in October from several opponents who railed against using taxpayer money to support “wealthy corporations.”
The 16-story PNC Center, previously known as National City Center and Merchants Plaza, houses the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, the city’s fourth-largest hotel based on number of rooms.
The Hyatt, along with other city hotels, has been targeted by a union group called Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, which is pressuring the hotels to improve their pay scales. About a dozen supporters of the group, armed with signs bearing such slogans as “Vote No on Ballard’s Bridge to Nowhere,” attended the MDC meeting.
Supporters argued that the walkway, as part of the Artsgarden, will be owned by the Arts Council of Indianapolis Inc. They also said TIF funds need to remain within the district and cannot be released into the city’s general fund.
I went back and look at the October 6, 2010 meeting where numerous individuals, including Councilor Brian Mahern, spoke against the project. The video can be found here. Mahern's comments begin at about 12:00 and runs to 33:30.
You'll notice how MDC Chairman Tim Ping handled the vote. Instead of singling out the controversial resolution for a separate vote, he simply left the resolution in with scores of other resolutions and asked for a voice vote on all of them at the same time. That prevented any sort of accountability of Commission members for their vote. Of course no board member asked a tough question. Member Scott Keller spoke, only to give a highly misleading statement about the the City "owning" the downtown Simon mall, thereby justifying the use of tax dollars. Another councilor asked Deron Kintner a softball question about whether the TIF money could be used outside the district.
Many of the speakers against the proposal complained about labor unrest at the Hyatt Regency located within the PNC Center.Other speakers, including Councilor Mahern, focused on how the Mayor has been using the TIF money as a slush fund to direct money to private corporations. He said, and I agree, that these excess TIF funds above what is needed to pay bond obligations, need to be going back to the general fund. At some point TIF districts need to go out of existence so that the property taxes in the district are not longer being diverted to be spent in less than an accountable fashion by boards like the MDC.
This administration's abuse of TIF funds will hopefully prompt some legislative changes.
While the City is putting up $600,000, HRPT Properties Trust of Boston, which owns the PNC Center, will be putting up the remaining $600,000. What bothers me is that we taxpayers are paying half of this project and for some reason it is simply being given away to the Arts Council of Indianapolis which will "own" the skywalk. If we taxpayers are putting up half the money, shouldn't WE own at least half of it? The Arts Council rivals Indianapolis Downtown in government subsidies. In previous posts, I have documented how the Arts Council (which is supposed to be a local clearinghouse for arts grants) uses our tax dollars to pay itself lavish salaries and benefits, while very little of our tax dollars actually trickle down to the artists. The Arts Council also has millions of dollars stashed away in investments and other savings, money which again originated as our tax dollars.
The Mayor's misplaced priorities involved in funnelling taxpayer dollars to private corporations has done one astonishing thing - it has untied fiscal conservatives and fiscal liberals in outrage. I am so glad to see fiscal liberals wake up to the fact that the taxpayer pie is only so big and that they need to be complaining about corporate welfare in this City. When Mayor Ballard is giving millions of dollars away to politically-connected companies, that is less money available for parks, buses, and libraries.
The Mayor will get a lesson about misplaced priorities come November 8, 2011.