EDITORIAL: Justice center move can benefit downtown

May 3, 2014

Most of the conversation surrounding the city’s proposed criminal justice center has focused on what the heart of downtown stands to lose when the courts and jails move out.

Rarely discussed is what downtown can gain from the new center, which is now officially slated for about a third of the 110-acre GM Stamping Plant site just west of White River. Three development teams have been asked by the city to draw up plans for a $500 million complex that would be built there to house courts, jails and other administrative offices now scattered inefficiently at various sites in and near the City-County Building.

Relocating those functions will do more than solve decades-old safety and efficiency problems for the city’s justice system. It also will open up the southeast quadrant of downtown for businesses that appeal to the influx of millennial apartment dwellers who are drawn to Massachusetts Avenue and other downtown entertainment options.

That’s a smart move for an area whose commercial potential is now far greater than it has been in decades. Delaware Street, for example, could evolve from a strip dominated by small law offices and bail bond businesses into a magnet for tenants that appeal to a broader cross-section of residents.

Driving the potential are hundreds of apartments either recently finished or about to break ground, the just-announced Cummins global distribution headquarters to be built on the south half of the former Market Square Arena site and the IndyGo transit hub across Washington Street from the City-County Building.

Shifting the criminal justice action across downtown to part of the GM site won’t come without some pain. Workers who are part of the system and those who have reason to interact with it won’t walk to City Market for lunch or patronize other businesses in the area, but new businesses will move in and the size of the 24-hour population is sure to grow.

And not everyone will move lock, stock and barrel to the new complex. Lawyers and others who serve the system from private office space aren’t likely to move anytime soon. For now, the office space they occupy is about as close to the new complex as you can get.

The benefits of the move aren’t confined to the east side of downtown. Property owners in the vicinity of the former GM Stamping Plant also have much to gain from the influx of justice center workers and visitors.

Down the road, they can also cash in on whatever is developed on the approximately 70 acres of the old manufacturing site left untouched by the justice center.

What makes sense there will be determined in part by how the justice center is designed. It’s a good start that the city wants to preserve land closest to the river for other uses. And the new complex won’t necessarily scare off more popular development options, such as a concert venue. Banker’s Life Fieldhouse is practically next door to an existing jail, after all.•

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