Prominent criminal lawyer: Airport site for complex 'cannot work'

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(Editor's clarification: James Edgar's opinions expressed below are his own. The Indianapolis Bar Association has not taken an official position on proposed sites for the Criminal Justice Complex.)

Indianapolis International Airport may be officials’ preferred location for a proposed Criminal Justice Complex, but attorneys who work in the system are critical of the idea.

“It cannot work,” said James Edgar, Criminal Justice Section chair for the Indianapolis Bar Association. He noted the logistical challenges of a roughly 40-minute commute from downtown and the difficulty of transporting defendants and court users to a site almost in Hendricks County.

“You’re going to take those 2,500 jobs and plop them on the doorstep of Plainfield,” Edgar said of attorneys, court and jail staff and the supporting workforce that he estimated would be displaced from downtown by the move. That equates to about $5 million a year just from those workers buying lunch, he said.

Edgar said the Criminal Justice Section’s membership of about 260 was largely unaware of the proposal and the favored airport site when he emailed them about it recently, but their responses were uniform. “None of them like the idea of going out to the airport. … The concept of moving it that far from downtown is just alarming to many people who make their living in and around the City-County Building.”

Marc Lotter, spokesman for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said the airport site hasn’t officially been selected for the complex, though it did score highest among sites the city evaluated.

Lotter said what’s clear, though, is that the complex won’t be downtown.

“It’s too costly to build a new facility downtown and also wouldn’t be the best use of real estate downtown,” he said.

“The airport site has a lot of attractive features. It’s off the tax roll and it’s already municipally owned,” Lotter said. The airport also has room for expansion with ample room for construction of private businesses that would be needed to support the complex, and could be connected to downtown with enhanced mass transit.

Lotter said potential developers aren’t drafting proposals with a particular site as a guide.

Edgar said IndyBar long has advocated for a Criminal Justice Complex that would combine jail and court facilities along with prosecutor, public defender, probation and other criminal-court-related offices.

“Everyone I’ve talked to wants to be part of the process of building something great, and no one’s talking about shutting down a good idea,” he said. “Everyone is alarmed at the prospect of being that far away.”

Initial formal responses to the city from potential development teams were due Feb. 11, beginning a period of review culminating with selection of a developer in September, according to a project timeline released last year.

David Rosenberg, director of enterprise development for the city, told a meeting of the general term of Marion Superior judges Feb. 3 that, “as far as location, no decision has been made” with regard to the complex. He told judges the city expected “solid teams from all over the world” to answer the city’s request for qualifications.

The airport ranks as the preferred site in a market survey of 14 potential sites conducted for the city by the real-estate services firm CBRE.

“Given criteria outlined previously and the site specific pros and cons, and pursuant to a scoring matrix – it is CBRE’s recommendation that the Indianapolis International Airport be identified as the preferred site for the Criminal Justice Complex.”

The site identified is 35 acres on the airport fringe near West Washington Street, east of Raceway Road. CBRE said the site’s strengths include current control by a municipal corporation, immediate availability and room for future expansion. Its location far from the city center is the chief weakness listed, and the survey notes the development could require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The CBRE study said it would provide a “backup” preferred site if the city requested. CBRE noted the survey was preliminary, and no property owners had been contacted as part of its analysis.

The former GM stamping plant site is the second-highest scoring of the 14 that CBRE rated on a scoring matrix. An attorney who attended a recent presentation about the proposed complex to the IndyBar said most attorneys favored the stamping plant site.

CBRE graded each site on a scale of 1 to 10 for size, location, use, access, speed to development, limitations and impact. A site near the Marion County Fairgrounds ranked third, closely followed by the South Grove Golf Course site and another site near the fairgrounds along Southeastern Avenue. The former Indiana Women’s Prison site rated lowest.

Ballard, Marion County Sheriff John Layton and other city and county officials announced plans for a Criminal Justice Complex in December.

Marion Superior Executive Committee Chairman Judge David Certo said at the Feb. 3 general term meeting that judges want to understand the needs of the practicing bar and also noted that the IndyBar for years has been calling for development of a criminal justice complex.

It’s unclear how much a proposed complex could cost, but officials have said the reduction in duplication of services and efficiencies that would be gained would allow for construction of the site without a tax increase.

The request for qualifications sets out parameters for the complex, calling for total construction of facilities covering 1.4 million square feet, or roughly the size of seven to eight typical Wal-Mart Supercenters.

A timeline for the project calls for the City-County Council to receive a proposal from the selected developer in September with groundbreaking early next year and opening in late 2018.

“The process appears to be moving quickly,” Certo said. 

Edgar said the speed of the process was concerning to bar members, some of whom feel their voices aren’t being heard.

“Part of the perception is … if (the jail, courts and related offices) could just be removed, it would open up downtown for development,” Edgar said. But, he added, that ignores the value those services provide, their current impact on the economy, and the impact it would have wherever those service are located.

Downtown businesses, Edgar said, also would be “impacted by the loss of hundreds of jurors and defendants who eat and shop around the City-County Building. From my dialogue with several businesses, they do not feel they can survive without us.”

Lotter, though, said the city isn’t concerned about filling the void created with the departure of the jail, criminal courts in the City-County Building and affiliated offices and businesses.

“Indianapolis is growing exponentially. It’s anticipated by Indianapolis Downtown Inc. that 3,500 new residential units are online to come into downtown in the next three to four years,” he said. “We believe because of the influx of residential and continuing growth of the business sector that transition will be quickly absorbed.”

Edgar, though, said the city may not have calculated fully what it may lose.

“My hope is that we can start using the phrase ‘criminal justice industry’ and view ourselves as a valuable economic asset,” he said. “We should receive the same level of consideration given to any other major employer in our city.”


  • Too expensive to NOT build downtown
    As a city, we have spent decades and BILLIONS of dollars to bring our downtown back from the brink of the abyss. This single decision would push roughly 23% of the downtown workforce (many of whom are high dollar tenants) to the hinterlands of the airport. Currently, our downtown vacancy rates are between 10-20% with many buildings virtually empty. The spin-off from the courthouse is enormous – think of all the restaurants, support services that would disappear because they either went to the airport or there is no longer enough business downtown to make ends meet. City downtowns ARE the judicial hubs. Every city, every town has their courthouse downtown – it is what creates a downtown in the first place!
  • Good Alternative
    A good compromise would be the old airport terminal location. It is convenient to downtown and has easy access from 465. Also, there is an 80 million dollar parking garage just sitting there. This site would be convenient and still keep the benefit of the judicial center in Marion County. The proposed "airport site" gives the benefit to Hendricks County and it is not a convenient location.
  • Paul K. Ogden
    Paul K. Ogden, while I don't always agree with you on many things, I am with you 100% on this. Please continue to speak up about this no matter how many times your comments get deleted for no reason whatsoever. We need people like you to question out government when the IBJ and Indianapolis Star obviously are not.
  • Express bus, etc
    Actually, there IS an express bus to the airport every 30 minutes, it just costs $10 each way and is operated by Go Express. In fact it stops very close to the CCB on Washington St. There is also route 8 but you would have to be really desperate to want to spend an extra hour getting to the airport to save 8 bucks. By the way-- to the people complaining we are trying to make our downtown like Chicago, have you ever been to downtown Chicago? I would trade our downtown for Chicago's any day... entertainment, shopping, dining, etc.
  • A Done Deal
    On Wednesday I wrote a comment that it doesn't matter that judges, attorneys and the public is against this airport location, this project is about politicians rewarding Corrections Corporation of America which bestows tons of campaign contributions on political officials and spends a small fortune employing Barnes & Thornburg, to represent it. The comment was deleted. CCA does a thoroughly horrible job running Jail #2. There is no reason to bring CCA or any other third party into this project. All it does is increase the cost of the project for the public.
  • Move the jails and subsidize Market Square redevelopment?
    If the Mayor believes that the criminal courts and jails are an impediment to downtown redevelopment, AND the Mayor knew he was planning to relocate said functions outside of downtown, WHY is the Mayor dangling $23 million in subsidies to get a high-rise redevelopment on part of the former MSA site? Couldn't the city have received development proposals requesting much less (or zero) in city subsidies if they had simply waited a few months until they announced that the impediments to development would be removed?
  • Still doesn't make sense
    Oh, that makes sense. Let's move it out there to create "scenery". Oh, and let's make a special transit line that so people can get to the place. In other words, let's "give" the people a line that will run from downtown to a new justice center. Of course, getting downtown is going to be their problem, right? This would be an undue burden and limit equal access.
  • Mini Chicago?
    I fail to see how wanting more high rise apartments and other businesses in the current CCB location is making Indianapolis into a "mini Chicago". That type of development is what most downtowns are built on, right? But perhaps, becoming a "mini Chicago" isn't such a bad thing. While I understand that the airport site is at the bottom of public opinion due to lack of transit, if transit were enhanced, like it's supposed to be with the Indy Connect plan, perhaps placing a criminal justice complex out there could make the area like a "mini O'Hare" or "mini Rosemont". Regardless of when the 2nd phase of the blue line is completed, an express bus from downtown to the airport is in the initial phase. This justice center could help build up the area out there and provide some scenery along I-70 between the airport and downtown. The main issue everyone has with the site is the lack of transit. If that factor is fixed, is it still such a bad idea? It's still in Marion County, and if other businesses choose to come to Indianapolis and look to build near the area, they're still providing some revenue for Marion County. Then again, I didn't major in archtecual engineering, urban planning, or marketing, so I could be way off base here.
  • Maggie
    Hopefully Maggie Lewis blocks this move out of Center Township. Maggie, we are counting on you!!
    • What?
      Some of these comments are about as senseless as the CBRE report. Obviously those that support this idea either haven't thought of or don't care about the impact of moving the justice center will have on the tax base of downtown. The loss of commercial activity and establishments will shift more of the tax burden to residential properties resulting in higher rents and property costs. It also creates an undue burden on the citizens by forcing them to go to the periphery of the city for government services instead of the center where access is easier. This creates a problem of equal access before the law, which is a legal concern.
    • really, criminal justice industry
      Come on, we now have a name for incarcerating criminals to benefit the local economy when it cost significantly more to lock them up than the benefit to the economy. This statement is really dumb. Just like calling Healthcare the Healthcare industry and now we know that our health is held hostage to profits and dollars.
    • tough, drive the 40 minutes
      Wow, they don't want a new facility outside their downtown location? I don't think they have much choice. The decision has probably already been made. The facilities downtown are atrocious and antiquated. Better to be near Plainfield where the Plainfield Correctional Facility is located. Access is easy with the interstate system. Welcome to the commuter system. Perhaps a bus line can be made available to employees currently downtown to get to the airport.
    • Wrong
      That's the point. If public transport can't be figured out to the airport of all places then something IndyGo should be closed. Service of course would be greatly improved as part of this project. Duh.
    • wrong
      excuse me, this is very much about the defendants and their families - there is great concern that most of the folks who use the criminal courts rely on public transportation and/or rides to get downtown. Given our current abysmal public transportation system, how easy do you think that will be to get out to the airport? Justice is to be accessible to all.
    • Mini Chicago
      This proposal seems like a small part of a larger plan to continue to turn downtown into a bunch of high rise apartment building to attract high income earners to shore up the city's finances. Maybe I am just stating the obvious. The long term plan is to make downtown Indy into a mini Chicago. Hopefully someday the $65 a night parking garages will follow. I'll be in the suburbs, thank you.
      • GM Site
        I can understand why the city is looking at the airport site but I do think the GM Stamping plant site would be much better. You have over 100 acreas at this location so you can break off 35 to support this development leaving 65 for other projects. I do think it is best to build this outside of the core. The empty parking lots next to the CCB need to be built up with mixed use developments similar to what F&C is already working on for the north section. It seems like everyone agrees a new criminal justice center is needed but it would be best if it can at least stay closer to the downtown core. My guess is the 40 minute drive mentioned in this article covers 20 minutes from downtown and back which would be about right with this proposed location on Washington Street. Hopefully the GM Stamping site will attract a strong development proposal and become the preferred site.
      • Reality?
        Its ridiculous to move an entire justice center to the edge of the county based on personal taste, which equates to convenience.
      • Distance
        Keep in mind, the distance is not just from downtown, it's also from places like Oaklandon. Transit users have to get downtown before catching an express bus (assuming there was one, which nobody promoting the airport site has promised). Plus you'd need several vehicles to provide frequent service - high cost. By contrast the GM site is quasi-downtown and could easily be served by a single shuttle bus from downtown on a frequent basis. I'm not wedded to that location, but it strikes me as the best at first glance. I find the strident negative comments about the critiques of the airport location curious. One can certainly have a different opinion, but it's hard to imagine why the airport location would arouse such passionate support as if it's the only viable option.
      • Jim
        LOL. It's quite a stretch to call Indianapolis a "tiny town", lol. And yes, there are plenty of "empty" lots downtown, but you don't just plop a jail and new courthouse any ol' place you can squeeze one in, come on.... downtown Indianapolis is often held up as a model for how a downtown should be developed and the decision on where to locate a new justice center is not one to be taken lightly.
      • For the City
        The airport is fifteen minutes from downtown not 40 minutes. The only reason these lawyers can come up with is that they don't want to travel to the airport. Well, it is about what is best for the city not what is best of the lawyers and other employees. Corporations move all the time and employees don't get to write the mayor to complain. Give us a break and stop getting in the way of progress. If you don't like your lunch options on the west side of town then brown bag it.
      • Maria!
        Grrr!! The city hasn't even put out and RFP yet! Can you PLEASE jump off the conspiracy theory horse for a single post? It's old...
      • Not so fast
        Everybody talks about how close the airport is to downtown when talking about tourism, conventions, sporting events, right? 15 minutes tops? You telling me the city can't figure out a regular express bus between downtown and airport? C'mon! Judges etc just want to stay downtown, bottom line. Not about defendants that's for sure! Or helping Plainfield with "economic development" of bail bondsman and crim defense lawyer offices!
        • Another Thank You to a Voice of Reason
          There seems to be some thought that the city does not own the land at the airport, that the FAA owns the land and would like to get paid back for it making the site less attractive. CBRE has been a hack on everything they have worked on for the city. they are not planners they are used building salesmen. They make some of the other advisors to former mayors absolutely professional. PS agree that the courts should be downtown, the republicans just don't like looking at the poor they have created. And we have plenty of open parking lots ready for redevelopment. We are a very tiny town really.
        • Great comments
          What great comments from most of you, especially Aaron M. Renn. It makes absolutely no sense to spend Marion County taxpayer money to fund development in Hendricks County. Which connected developer friend of Mayor Ballard is pushing for this?
        • Lotter: "Too costly to build downtown"
          Yet there is a City supported and subsidized plan to build the most expensive apartment high rise right next to the CCB and jails. These goons are hilarious. There are probably 2 attorneys in the entire state who think it's good to move it to the airport and those 2 are the developers lobbyists.
        • Quit Whining
          Seems like a lot of high priced lawyers don't want to be inconvenienced; most of these objections are petty and trivial. " Being on the fringe of the county, it would be burdensome for families or witnesses to travel there." News flash, people living on the West side are city residents too. This entire discussion revolves around people not wanting change to affect them.
        • Not sure what the problem is
          Can someone provide some honest insight for me: what is the big problem with locating the Criminal Justice Center downtown? People act like its taking room that might otherwise be used for other types of development, but that obviously isn't true - just look at all the empty parking lots downtown! If its a question of not wanting to mix it up with criminals, I suppose there might be a point there, but the CJC hasn't stopped the luxury apartment complex across the street, the farmer's market, City Market, etc.
        • Thanks James
          Thank you, James Edgar, for being the voice of reason in this debate. CBRE should be ashamed of themselves for this ridiculous idea.
        • An Airport Location Is a Terrible Idea
          I applaud the idea of a justice center located away from downtown, but the airport idea is fatally flawed. Being on the fringe of the county, it would be burdensome for families or witnesses to travel there. That alone should make it a non-starter. But it would also put hundreds of deputies and other employees right on the doorstep of Hendricks County. A Marion County sheriff's deputy is the perfect profile of person to move to Plainfield or Avon. Why in the world would you want to basically lay out an open invitation for so many people to relocate out of the county? The same is true of law offices, lunch places, etc. that could be around the new justice center. These could easily be located across the border. Spending north of $300 million on what would be a de facto economic development project for Hendricks County makes no sense. I think the sheriff spilled the beans in a previous IBJ article. The airport site was tapped from the beginning because they want to use it as a profit center to house federal inmates in transport and such. Not a bad concept and one I think warranted exploration, but in the broader context not the best move. By the way, I don't hate Hendricks County and want to see it thrive. I just don't think Marion County government facilities should be the engine of that growth. As locals complain about a lack of love from the state house on transit and such, keep in mind this is an entirely locally controlled project. Putting the justice center to the airport would be an unforced error by local government. If Marion County wants to staunch the bleeding of people, businesses, income, spending, and tax revenue to the collar counties, the first step is not to shoot yourself in the foot. The first step in getting out of a hole? Stop digging.
        • Facts
          Mike - Those parking lots you refer to comprise the site of our future transit center Ben - Huh? There absolutely is solid evidence AND proof of that, lol. One only need to walk around downtown and open their eyes to the construction that is occurring to see it. The downtown rental market has THE lowest vacancy rate of any designated area in this city. Bottom line is the new Justice Centre NEEDS to be built in an area outside of the downtown core. Personally, a portion of the GM Stamping property makes the most sense to me...
        • Serious question
          How slow does Mr. Edgar drive that it takes him 40 minutes to get to the airport? It takes me 15 minutes tops to get from downtown to the airport. Aside from that I get why they don't want to move to the airport, but they shouldn't be so hyperbolic about the travel time.
        • City County Building
          In my opinion when they decide on the finally location for the site, they also need to fund a major renovation of the city county building all at the same time. It would not be wise to comeback 5-10 later asking for a new city hall. It is a bond project, and it makes sense and will save cents to roll it into one project. That building needs a complete overall and this would be the prudent time to renovate the entire building.
        • Boo Hoo
          I don't think James Edgar can intelligently speak on behalf of 2,500 individuals (assuming this number is even correct). I'm sure some criminal justice workers would love their job being relocated near Plainfield, if they live in the area." My company recently moved from Indianapolis to Carmel, and there were winners and losers. Downtown businesses may suffer from a loss of patronage, while businesses near the new facility will flourish. Mr. Edgar is speaking in absolutes ("It cannot work"), instead of keeping an open mind. I think the Criminal Justice Section needs a new, open-minded Chair. If he wants to be considered part of a "criminal justice industry," then he should understand and appreciate how such an industry must compete within an economy. It's ridiculous for an entire industry, let alone one firm within that industry, to oppose change or progress based on a convenience argument. There may be logistical challenges (for some), some business may suffer (while others flourish). Such is the nature of a free market.
          • Poor Idea
            Unimpressive Mr. Ballard. I doubt even 2% of the entire Indy Bar would find a move to the old airport a good idea. The criminal justice complex has been built over the last 50 years with the jail, jail 2, courts, and countless offices of attorneys available to ensure due process. Uprooting the whole system is unnecessarily expensive. The system can easily improve by establishing a separate location for civil courts and city county offices and allow the criminal courts to use the entire city county building. A day care for city employees no longer need be placed next to holding cells and a domestic violence court. Further, the city can piggy back private construction and promote even further economic activity. Kite is looking for an anchor tenant in whatever they plan at Pan Am plaza. Or, the city can make use of its own assets - City Hall. While I know the Mayor would like to ship out to an expressway exit our criminal justice system, Justice comes from the Center and if one break the law, they are going downtown, not the airport.
          • baaaad idea
            Jim Edgar is right. Its painfully obvious to anybody who is not employed by or used to sucking up to the real estate development industry that is always looking for an extra dime for itself at everyone else's expense. I'm not naming any names here for example, but you can use imagination on that account. Anyways, If we had looked back to the time before the development of malls with a consideration of the negative externalities that would generate there are a multitude of choices that would be made differently with the benefit of hindsight. Put this one to bed now and find a downtown solution.
          • why
            Why don't they build a new facility just south of the ccb where the proposed transit hub is to be built. They could tear down the jail that's there and build up. If they are worried about orange jump suits walking around DT, build some under ground tunnels. Taking high paid white collar jobs out of DT is a bad idea.
          • Smarter Cheaper Alternative
            There are vast open parking lots surrounding the City County Building, Marion County Jail 1 and Marion County Jail 2. Why don't they renovate & expand upon what is already there?
          • Really?
            “Indianapolis is growing exponentially. It’s anticipated by Indianapolis Downtown Inc. that 3,500 new residential units are online to come into downtown in the next three to four years,” Lotter said. “We believe because of the influx of residential and continuing growth of the business sector that transition will be quickly absorbed.”--- I question this statement as there is no solid evidence or proof that this will occur. Just because you build a bunch of condos/apts (mostly apts) downtown that a flock of people will move in, not to mention that they may not work downtown. Putting the cart before the horse on this one.
          • Indianapolis Justice Center
            Serious questions need to be asked about the Mayors latest public works proposal that is on scale with building another Lucas Oil Stadium or Wishard/Eskenazi hospital at great taxpayer expense. Not only should the large cost and promised cost savings be deeply scrutinized, but the basic logic of consolidating the entire central Indiana justice system with one landlord. Remember the large promises of cost savings made in consolidating IPD and the Sheriff departments. Any serious analysis would discover there was none. Remember the large promises made of creating one central court computer system called Odyssey? 7 years later, far fewer than half the courts use the system and the $73 million estimated cost in 2002 was no doubt far exceeded and no end in sight. Remember the promises made in building a IMPD Regional operation at the former Eastgate mall that now sits empty? Remember the original cost savings promises made in moving the IFD headquarters in a deal that has morphed into a completely different deal with no cost savings even promised any longer?

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