The Mile Square’s Capital Gains

Mile Square cleanup crew on the Monument Circle downtown
Illustration by Curt Merlo

RESCUE EFFORTS. After suffering from what resembled a case of long COVID, with debilitating symptoms impacting both the economic and cultural vigor of Indianapolis, Mayor Joe Hogsett launched the Downtown Resiliency Strategy last year, a program aimed at addressing housing, infrastructure, public spaces, and economic development with earmarked funds from the city’s $419 million American Rescue Plan purse. Last November, an additional $3.5 million was announced, intending to supplement ongoing efforts in the heart of downtown through a partnership with Downtown Indy Inc.

AT A CROSSROADS. While the city has over 400 square miles to consider, DII focuses only on the area immediately surrounding Monument Circle, totaling about a mile and a half. “We really can help to be more flexible, to help add resources, and to be kind of creative and nimble in ways sometimes that [the city] can’t be because they have so much ground to cover,” says Taylor Schaffer, newly instated president and CEO of DII, adding that the longstanding public-private partnership between these two entities is crucial as Indianapolis evolves and more residents make downtown their home.

SAFETY IN NUMBERS. Despite a negative perception, Mayor Hogsett insists that downtown is the safest neighborhood in the city, accounting for less than 5 percent of all crime. Even so, public-safety measures are a big part of this plan.

PARTNERS IN CRIME. For years, DII has reinforced the IMPD presence downtown through off-duty bike patrols (IMPD officers hired by DII outside of their existing contract with the city), explains Schaffer. Part of the $3.5 million will be used to bolster this partnership, adding more patrols for improved visibility and reassurance to those downtown. 

SMILE! YOU’RE ON CAMERA. Crime-fighting tech will also be funded, including grants to defray the initial cost of cameras to area business owners. cameras aren’t the only eyes IMPD has downtown (there are 128 camera views and license plate readers currently), but the initial rollout of the program—a partnership between IMPD and the Public Safety Foundation—has already proven beneficial. “IMPD has used it successfully to solve cases along with other investments in technology that we’ve made downtown and throughout our neighborhoods,” says Mark Bode, communications director at the mayor’s office.

A KEY TO THE CITY. During the pandemic, a lack of public restrooms created some pretty gross problems. While some of this money will be utilized for expanded alley maintenance and increased power washing, public defecation isn’t the heaping problem it was in 2020. To better address the issue, homeless outreach and public restrooms are also on the agenda. Doug Stephenson, owner of Downtown Comics, says new facilities are essential, but only if there is a plan to have proficient security and staffing, suggesting, “You’ve got to have an attendant all the time, and it’s going to have to have some rules.”

PILOT PROGRAM CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF. Reinforced by $2 million from the 2023 city-county operating budget, an all-new public-safety program will bring a non-law enforcement, clinician-led mental health response team to the streets 24/7, adding to the growing list of services designed to reform the city’s criminal justice system by shifting non-violent citizens toward recovery instead of jail time.

LET ICONS BE ICONS. “I think there needs to be more focus on Monument Circle,” says Stephenson, who has operated his business in the shadow of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument for three decades. He feels like the city is constantly pursuing and promoting the next big project, citing Georgia Street, Mass Ave, and now Eleven Park at the Diamond Chain site, leaving the Circle to deteriorate, both physically and figuratively. “That same progress needs to be applied here,” he says of the enigma that is the Circle.

FULL CIRCLE. Even with its minute representation on the map, the Mile Square generates 20 percent of the city’s tax revenue, making investment in the area essential. Stephenson is hopeful these applications will bring more people downtown, especially to Monument Circle. “You can’t have it all screwed up and dirty and people are afraid to go there. It’s the symbol of the city.”