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Officials weigh moving Hamilton County offices

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Space is at a premium in the Hamilton County Government & Judicial Center, prompting officials to consider solutions running the gamut from an expansion of the existing building to a mass exodus from downtown Noblesville.

To no surprise, the latter possibility has created a bit of a stir in the county seat.

Dillinger Dillinger

“There has been a lot of speculation,” said Renee Oldham, executive director of Noblesville Main Street, a membership-based organization that aims to keep downtown vibrant. “We are in the process of collecting information and meeting with county and city leaders to understand exactly what’s on the table.”

County Commission President Steve Dillinger laid out a veritable smorgasbord of options to deal with the space crunch at the 21-year-old facility, which houses the increasingly busy Hamilton County courts along with several other county offices, including the prosecutor, clerk, surveyor and planning department. The treasurer, auditor, recorder and most of the assessor’s staff works in the restored historic courthouse across the street (connected to the judicial center via tunnel).

The county owns the land directly west of the existing building—which Dillinger said was constructed with expansion in mind—as well as several nearby downtown parcels now used as employee parking lots that could be developed into additional office space.

moving-factbox.gifIt also owns property on Foundation Drive east of State Road 37, where the county Health Department and Coroner’s Office moved several years ago (and where there’s room for another building).

Which option makes the most sense remains to be seen. Dillinger said a decision likely won’t come for months, and definitely not before the commissioners have a chance to vet the possibilities with the community and the County Council, which controls the public purse strings.

“It is all very preliminary,” he said.

The discussion began when the commission, the county’s administrative and legislative body, asked departments to submit capital-projects requests for the next few years—a period when Dillinger said more than $80 million in debt is expected to be paid off. Office and storage space was a common request, along with technology updates.

“We have a wish list this big,” Dillinger said, spreading his arms apart. “Now we have to focus in on prioritizing it.”

Something has to give. The judicial center is “pretty well maxed out” now, he said, and officials expect the Legislature to add another judge or magistrate to ease the courts’ heavy caseload. With amenities like holding cells and secure elevators for prisoners already in place, the courts aren’t likely to go anywhere.

And Dillinger said many of the other county offices are so interrelated that they need to stay in close proximity.

“If we move one, we almost have to move them all,” he said.

That’s the rub. Moving 150 or so county employees around downtown is one thing. Moving them—and the citizens who conduct business at their offices—elsewhere is quite another.

A decades-old study conducted while Dillinger was a Noblesville city councilor suggested as much as 80 percent of downtown traffic originated with a trip to a county office. Main Street’s Oldham doesn’t have current estimates, but she said relocating anything that serves as a destination could have an impact on businesses.

“Obviously it’s an area of concern,” she said. “People are attracted to people.”

Downtown’s retail and restaurant offerings draw about 168,000 visitors a year, Oldham said.

“This is a genuine, authentic downtown,” she said. “And it’s beautiful … Many downtowns this size are boarded up.”

Dillinger said the county made a commitment to downtown when it built the current facility in 1992, and that certainly will be a factor in the upcoming decision. But it won’t be the only one.

Ultimately, officials must be able to answer a key question, he said: “What is the most economical, responsible way to do this?”•

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  • Keeping County Seat in Noblesville
    It has been a fear that now could be reality. For there even be ANY consideration of moving the offices from downtown Noblesville would be a travisty. It defines our city. As a resident, I am proud of it. Where there is a will, there is a way. KEEP THE OFFICES DOWNTOWN!

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  1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

  2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

  3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

  4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

  5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.

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