Commercial Real Estate and Development/Redevelopment and Real Estate & Retail

Redevelopment eyed for former jail building

July 27, 2009

Prospective buyers need a little vision to see the potential in the four-story former jail at the southwest corner of Maryland and Delaware streets.

The top three floors of the 1900 warehouse feature opaque windows covered by steel fencing, open stalls of toilets and showers, raised platforms used by jail guards, and rows and rows of bunks—evidence of the roughly 20 years the building served as a minimum-security jail operated by Marion County Community Corrections. Many of the walls even have hand-drawn nuggets of advice from former inmates, including “if you lay down, you stay down.”

But the building also has features developers covet, including tall ceilings, huge windows with skyline views and a brick exterior with historic features. And the 30,900-square-foot building is on the edge of a booming section of downtown, just steps from Conseco Fieldhouse.

The owner, retired businessman Gordon Graham, decided to put the property up for sale after the corrections department late last year agreed to move inmates out of the building as part of a lawsuit settlement with the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. The group had sued over what it described as overcrowded and unsanitary conditions for the jail’s couple of hundred inmates.

The asking price is $1.5 million.

“It’s the only privately owned building on that block, with ample parking all around it,” said Elliot Trexler, a broker with the local office of Marcus & Milli-chap, who is marketing the property.

Most potential buyers see the historically designated Wholesale District building as potential office space, maybe with a restaurant or fitness center on the first floor. Of course, it won’t be cheap. The cost of renovating the space likely would run another $1.5 million or more, Trexler said, although historic tax credits for redevelopment should help.

A mix of uses, primarily office lofts, probably makes the most sense for the building, said Brian Epstein, who owns locally based Urban Space Commercial Properties.

Epstein, who hasn’t toured the building, said residential would be tough since no parking spaces are included in the offering, although the Sideline Garage is next door and the city-owned Virginia Avenue Garage is across Delaware Street. The cost of renovating the building will depend to some extent on what kind of tenant moves in.

The property’s top downside probably is its proximity to the Marion County Jail, which sits on the northeast corner of Maryland and Delaware.

The building most recently was appraised for tax purposes at about $500,000, but because of its municipal tenant, it hasn’t generated tax revenue. It was built as a warehouse and in the early 1980s became office space for Graham Electronics, a homegrown company that later sold out to Bell Industries. The Graham family, meanwhile, retained ownership of the building.

The current occupant, Community Corrections, has informed the building owner it will vacate its lease, which requires payment of $95,000 per year through 2015, in April 2010. The inmates left in February, and remaining corrections staff members are slated to leave next year.

The departure means an option the city has to buy the property at a market price also will expire in April, Trexler said. It’s unclear how much the city will owe on the lease, which required Community Corrections to handle the building’s maintenance and upkeep.•

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