Thursday, August 16, 2012

What the Hell is Grow Mass Ave?

My friend Abdul Hakim-Shabazz did an interview with a representative of an organization of Grow Mass Ave over at his Indy Politics site. Full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to Indy Politics.

Despite the name of the group, don't be fooled into thinking it is some sort of neighborhood advocacy group with strong ties to the community. Grow Mass Ave is something that started to advocate for the downtown TIF district to be expanded to include the Massachusetts Avenue district. And as someone who has often followed issues of local interest, it is pretty rare for online advocacy to be done, let alone be done professionally.

"But Matt, how do you know that this organization started recently?"

Call it a hunch.

First up is that I've never heard of Grow Mass Ave.

Their domain,, was registered earlier this month by Jennifer Wagner. Wagner is a longtime Democratic activist and her husband is rumored to benefit from the proposed Mass Ave development. The address and phone number that show up on the WHOIS search of the domain name appear to be associated with Darvel Communications, a firm formerly run by Wagner which seems to have transitioned over to Mass Ave PR.

Typically, when advocates want to make their issue known, they have little choice but try to do earned media. They don't have the resources to hire someone to quickly build a website, set up social media, and competently communicate the message. They might have time to slap together a Facebook page or a bare bones website or blog, but that's about it. In rare cases, a large organization that already has an established presence and competent media and IT people at their disposal can quickly establish an online and media presence, but that's about it.

I don't say this as any slight against Wagner. She's a well connected person who has a wealth of experience. But my guess is, her services do not come cheap. So the question is, who is paying her for this cause and why? If she is successful in helping pass the downtown TIF district expansion, what does her client stand to benefit from it?

UPDATE: In a series of tweets, Wagner says she is doing the work for free. She also says that the neighborhood has supported this redevelopment for over a year. While this might answer her role in Grow Mass Ave, Grow Mass Ave itself still has plenty of questions to answer for of their own.


  1. Excellent investigation work. You did miss one fact though. Wagner's husband is Gordon Hendry who works for CB Richard Ellis. Hendry's firm is in line to net a million-dollar plus brokerage fee for the redevelopment.

  2. A million dollar plus brokerage fee for doing very very little. Go back to the IBJ article and you will see how little they have done. There is a proposal now taken off the table that would do the project without any subsidies but it takes the money that would go to CBRE and puts it into the project for the benefit of all not a few.

  3. I've personally spoken to several business owners in that area and they don't share Wagner's opinion at all, Matt. This is being forced down their throats whether they want it or not. They found their own financing and built their own businesses and made Mass Ave a huge success. Now these well-connected developers want to free load off their hard work and obtain big government subsidies to go into an area they've already made desirable and successful.

  4. And, Gary, diluting the customer base by injecting more competing storefronts with deep pockets behind them.

  5. So we're supposed to believe that Jennifer Wagner, who was downright MEAN and rude to property tax protestors in 2007 (she was the first to call us "teabaggers"), cares about the business and property owners in and around Mass Avenue?

    I'd like to hear what Tom and Sherry Battista think. I'd like to hear what Robin Young thinks. I'd like to hear from the publisher of Urban Times on this matter.

    Jen Wagner's underhanded involvement cannot be exposed often enough.

  6. The last thing the Mass Ave merchants want is government sponsored competition. This is just a excuse for some politically connected people to make a profit piggy backing on the hard work done by the original Mass merchants to develop the area. Doesn't seem right that the taxpayers of Indy should subsidize this silliness. With the possibility of another recession around the corner there will be less disposable income to go around and even so called hot areas will be hard pressed to make a go at it.


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