Downtown Evansville EID wants property owners to get bang for their buck
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Some of the most tangible impacts of Evansville’s Downtown Economic Improvement District are along Main Street right now, during the holiday season.
Selfie spots are on every block of the winding, brick-covered path. There’s a glittery snowflake and tree, a letters to Santa mailbox, a light-draped backdrop in front of a burned-out property, and a garland-covered steel arch with nutcrackers on each side.
But the Downtown EID, which is now two years old, is about more than decorations. President Joshua Armstrong said the larger benefit is in taking Downtown development and activity to higher levels.
The Downtown EID is a unit of city government, created by a City Council vote in November 2017. It is bordered by Lloyd Expressway to the north, Fulton Avenue to the west and the Mulberry Street area to the east (it does not include Haynie’s Corner).
All property owners within the boundary pay an additional tax levy, which is .0021 percent of assessed valuation on commercial properties. For residential properties, the cost is a flat fee of $150 for those on Main Street and $100 for those off Main Street.
“Our goal is to proportionally provide benefits throughout the district, and in order to be proportional, the Main Street parcels have to pay more,” Armstrong said.
The only entities who may opt out are nonprofit organizations. Armstrong said about half of nonprofits pay, and about half decline.
Now two years old, the Downtown EID has a three-person executive team and a board of directors. For 2020, revenues totaled $683,000. (The budget line for holiday décor is $25,000).
Salaries of Armstrong and two other full-time staff members come to $257,000, about 37 percent of the total budget.
Armstrong places the Downtown EID’s goals into three categories, and he recently gave the City Council an overview of progress on each.
Clean, safe and beautify
During 2019, the Downtown EID planted 65 trees and 26 shrubs, as well as hundreds of perennials and annuals.
The organization funded graffiti removal, trash pickup and added security patrols. It also contributed an extra hour per day of daily services at United Caring Services, a nonprofit that assists people experiencing homelessness.
A game room alley was created off the 300 block of Main Street.
Main Street property owners derive the greatest benefit from the Downtown EID activities, but Armstrong said the agency’s biggest expense of 2019 was a tree planting and beautification project on the western end of the boundary, along Fulton Avenue. The total bill was nearly $63,000.
Events and marketing
Promotion through Social media is a major part of the Downtown EID’s mission and strategy, Armstrong said, and the agency is active on all platforms.
It was the first year for Market on Main, a new farmer’s market program that ran on Wednesdays from June through September, on the plaza in front of the Ford Center.
There was a wine walk, craft beer trail, movie night and more. The Downtown EID also has taken over the annual Fourth of July fireworks event.
Business attraction and retention
The year’s biggest new development announcement in Downtown Evansville was the 5th & Main project, which is a plan to put new housing and commercial space in the 18-story former bank tower building.
Armstrong said the Downtown EID was involved in that from the beginning, funding a study that showed a demand for more market-rate housing and quality office space Downtown.
Domo Development of Carmel, Indiana, announced in September its intent to fill the 50-year-old tower with 60 apartments, as well as some office spaces and ground-level retail spaces.
The $25 million to $30 million project is expected to start in the spring and take about 18 months to complete.
Completion is expected in 2020 for the Post House, which is residential and commercial development, as well as the Hyatt Place and the former Riverhouse hotel.
Several small businesses also have taken up residence Downtown since the EID’s creation — Parlor Doughnuts and Myriad Brewing among them.
Armstrong said more can be done to improve Downtown.
He noted the area’s empty office space — hundreds of thousands of square feet of it — across multiple buildings. But he said it is not good enough for today’s companies.
“We need to get that space reused as apartments or hotels or otherwise disposed of,” Armstrong said.
The Downtown EID also wants to bring more investment to the so-called NoCo (north of Court Street) area. That’s been “challenging,” Armstrong said, although the redevelopment of a former Nabisco factory at 401 NW Second St. is a good start. A restaurant and apartments are going there.
Officials would like to find occupants for the former WNIN studio on Carpenter Street, as well as the former Pearl Cleaners building.
Armstrong said the Downtown EID wants all property owners in the boundary to benefit from their investment, pointing to things like snow and ice removal and special events that include areas off the Main Street corridor.
“I think half of our efforts still have not been realized fully,” Armstrong said. “We’re here setting the table for future development, whether that’s a nail salon or a $40 million project. Both are important.”
Former Old National Bank CEO Bob Jones, whose name is now on a section of Walnut Street in the Downtown EID boundary, was the EID’s first board chair and is credited with being a visionary for the organization.
Jones is from Cleveland, and about 15 years ago, he was part of efforts to create a similar organization in that city’s Downtown. Cleveland’s downtown district is credited with helping revive the city and land major events such as the 2016 Republican National Convention.
“They did an additional levy on top of property owners, and the priorities were safety, cleanliness, accouterments with flowers,” Jones said. “You get pride and development in the downtown. It was almost an exact parallel to Evansville, on a larger scale.”
As in Cleveland, Evansville’s Downtown EID has sought to change people’s attitudes about the area, Armstrong said.
“That really is the core of our work, the things you can’t measure or see, but yet have outcomes that are more tangential or powerful,” he said.