INDIANAPOLIS–Both Mayor Joe Hogsett and the co-chair of the Downtown Recovery Committee believe downtown Indianapolis should keep pushing for some of the same improvements that were ahead before the pandemic and the riots of the last weekend in May.
“I know what some may say. It’s a gamble to plan ahead like this during a pandemic. To me, it seems like a gamble not to,” said Hogsett in his State of Downtown speech, which was given online Thursday at 4 p.m.
LISTEN: Mayor Hogsett’s State of Downtown speech
While Hogsett and Tom McGowan, co-chair of the Recover Committee, mentioned the pandemic as one of the issues that has put a stop to the progress and growth downtown (temporarily, said the mayor), neither man would call the events that happened during the last weekend in May riots.
“A global pandemic and public health crisis, coupled with a long-overdue national reckoning with racial injustice. These challenges have produced perhaps the most trying six months in our city’s 200-year history,” said Hogsett. McGowan referred to the riots as “problems downtown with unrest”.
The “unrest” he referred to resulted in fires, looting and hundreds of businesses with damage. Some of the businesses couldn’t or wouldn’t reopen and kept boards over the windows and doors.
“For those of us who have watched downtown evolve over the last four years in particular, it has been painful to see so much growth temporarily, temporarily halted,” said the mayor, “especially when so much driving these circumstances is beyond the control of city and civic leadership.”
Some people argue that a larger police presence (with officers who volunteered to be a part of the effort to stop riots) might have helped deter the destruction of businesses on May 31. The pandemic was obviously not the fault of the city. But, mandates and enforcement by the city kept some businesses closed.
Hogsett said he believes Indianapolis needs to be ready when the pandemic is over and tourists are able to come back safely. He pointed out that the Bottleworks project is progressing, along with the renovation of Bankers Life Fieldhouse (The proper name is just the Fieldhouse-no current sponsor).
The City-County Council also approved in committee, the addition of 300,000 sq. ft. of new Indiana Convention Center space, and construction is going forward on new hotels, including the 800-room, 38-story Signia Hilton.
Some of the obstacles to overcome include a perception that downtown is no longer safe of clean.
“One of the problems that we face as a committee, as a city, is the simple fact that we only have ten to fifteen of our office population currently downtown. That is a dramatic decrease in foot traffic,” said McGowan. He believes that makes the homeless population more visible.
Hogsett said the city is using money to find homeless people and panhandlers homes and work, and $2 million is being used to reopen the Reuben Engagement Center, the closure of which put more homeless people on the street than normal.