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Mayor champions plan to relocate justice center

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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Marion County court and law enforcement leaders on Wednesday morning expect to announce plans for a new criminal justice complex.

The idea has been batted around at least as far back as 1991 in response to increased crowding in limited space for courts at the City-County Building, as well as overpopulation in the Marion County Jail and the privately run Jail II at 730 E. Washington St..

Such a facility, which could be located outside of downtown proper, could cost upwards of $200 million. Details of Ballard's plan are still unclear, but the complex could include criminal courts, jail facilities, the Marion County prosecutor's office and related agencies.

The 28-story City County Building opened in 1962 at the southeast corner of Delaware and Market streets. Ballard's plan could consolidate criminal justice operations from other areas of the city as well.

Ballard officials in recent weeks have signaled the mayor has been exploring financing the project without raising taxes, but rather through an arrangement with a private developer. The city then could lease the facility for a period of decades before taking ownership.

“I think it’s a valid concept, and it needs to be studied carefully,” said criminal defense attorney John Kautzman, who co-chairs the Justice Center Task Force at the Indianapolis Bar Association. The task force lobbied for building a new justice center as early as 2002.

Relocating the current courts and jails could have repercussion for downtown. Hundreds of lawyers, bail bondsmen and other justice-related workers are clustered near the City-County Building. Such populations have helped downtowns thrive, Kautzman said.

Downtown's bond agents likely would move closer to a relocated facility, said Jim Degan, president of the Indiana Surety Bail Agents Association. That would give bond firms a chance to present a more professional appearance than their weathered and neon-dominated facades, he said.

Aaron Renn, an urban policy analyst who publishes the popular Urbanophile blog, said there’s an upside to transferring criminal justice operations to a privately owned facility: The new development would generate tax revenue for the city.

Renn pointed out that neither Chicago nor New York City’s jails are located in their downtown commercial districts. The 96-acre Cook County Jail, for example, is southwest of downtown Chicago, in a neighborhood with shops and restaurants that benefit from jail-related traffic.

Moving Marion County’s justice center complex to a brownfield or otherwise vacant industrial site—for example, to the former General Motors stamping plant southwest of downtown—would inject money into those local neighborhoods as well, Renn said.

To make it work, Renn suggested direct transit routes from downtown to such a site, which would allow low-income residents access. “You’d [just] need good transit connections," he said.

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  • Govt
    I agree with Jim and Paul Ogden! ps- We need the govt to stop telling us what we can and can't do- what's good for us and is not good for us. Why religion is important...and on and on.. while continuing to ask us for more $. Political and Religious BS is the root cause for most of societies' shortcomings/issues..
  • Long overdue
    As a former Corrections Officer a new complex is very long overdue. The fuel savings alone would help when your not transporting between 5+ buildings not to mention better safety for security staff as well as the general public. Consolidation allows for better inmates and the surroundings.
  • Alternative Idea
    Eliminate all laws against victimless crime, and that will cut down the volume significantly and save the tax payers a bundle. It will also give law enforcement more time to catch the real criminals that commit crimes agaist other people. It seems so simple to me.
  • Stamping plant
    If this happens there are other areas than the stamping plant to consider. The GM site should be used for a mixed use residential development that adds to the tax base.
  • You got to be Kidding
    The discussion has been for the past 20 years for a new Justice center to be built between the Jail and the City County Building. Here is no way the Judges will let the Mayor boot them out of Downtown.
  • Partisan Bickering
    I support the need for a new Justice Center and I agree that bonding is the best way to achieve it. The only problem is that the current city-county council is reluctant to approve anything that would give the mayor positive PR even if it best for everyone.
  • Private Owner
    The only reason to bring in a private business is to put taxpayer money in the pockets of that private business. They could just as easily bond it and pay it back over a period of time rather than pay lease payments to a private company which will definitely be more expensive.
    • No tax increases???
      Who writes this trash? The lease payments will include the facility cost, operating costs (including any property taxes) and return on investment to the private developer (a friend of the Mayor no doubt). So taxes will be increased by the City to make the lease payments. No secret source of funding here - just the Indy taxpayers as usual. We may need a new criminal justice facility and downtown may not be the best location - but the real story is that (again) the Mayor wants to have a new asset (and get credit for it) while the cost (a tax increase) is delayed until he is out of office.
    • Go Mayor Gregg just go
      only one comment- can you smell the ROC- just another shifting of money to Mayor Gregg's friend?
    • 28 stories!
      The fact that a 28-story building is too small to fit our CITY's government is what really should be discussed here.

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