UPDATE: Mayor picks GM site for criminal justice complex

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The former General Motors stamping plant west of downtown is Mayor Greg Ballard's preferred location for a new criminal justice complex.

That recommendation will be presented to stakeholders and neighborhood groups, and their feedback will be incorporated into a final analysis, Indianapolis Director of Enterprise Development David Rosenberg said Thursday evening.

Contrary to information released by the city earlier Thursday, Rosenberg said there's no decision yet on what site to include in a request for proposals that will be issued to a short list of three developer groups on March 27, he said.

The project, which will replace existing facilities in disparate locations in the southeast quadrant of downtown, might cost as much as $400 million.

The project is meant to bring together and consolidate Marion County courts, jails and related offices and agencies.

Ballard's office also said that it would hold three public meetings to gather input about the complex. While choosing the GM site over an airport-owned tract near the Hendricks County line might satisfy critics who insisted that the new facility remain centrally located to Marion County residents, it raises another thorny issue.

How can the 100-acre GM property, which overlooks the White River and downtown, live up to its potential as a signature redevelopment site with other major features if it hosts the county jail?  

“Is it really going to get built out if there's a criminal justice center there?” asked City-County Councilor Jeff Miller, a Republican whose district includes the GM site. Miller was one of several stakeholders whom IBJ had asked to weigh in on the site before Ballard's announcement Thursday.

Jeff Gearhart, executive director of the West Indianapolis Development Corp., said he was certain a jail would ruin the GM site for future housing, which is his organization's priority for reuse. That's not to say, however, that the neighborhood wouldn't welcome a justice center.

“I have no difficulty with it being in the neighborhood at all,” Gearhart said. “I don't want it at that site.”

Although Ballard's office already has announced its preferred site, it still will take public comment on the airport site and the complex in general. The first of three public meetings will be 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Mary Rigg Center, 1920 W. Morris St., and will focus on the GM site. A second meeting will be Wednesday to discuss the airport site, and a third will be hosted by the City-County Council on March 24.

Ballard announced in December the plan to search for a private development partner to build a new complex, which would house the courts, jails, community corrections and legal offices that now are scattered in and around downtown. Led by Rosenberg, Ballard's deputies moved quickly. 

They already have chosen three groups to bid on developing the complex. The request for proposals is set to be issued to the groups on March 27.

Ballard's team chose the GM property from a list of 14 potential sites, some suggested by the administration and others identified by a consultant, Gordon Hendry of CBRE. Using city-imposed criteria, Hendry analyzed and ranked each property.

The airport property southeast of Raceway Road and West Washington Street received the top rating, and the GM site had the second-highest score. CBRE gave the airport property a perfect 10 on size, suitability for use and speed to development, and a 9 on highway and bus access. But lawyers and judges lambasted that choice because it's inconvenient to them and most Marion County residents.

Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg, who oversees court operations, said recently that the mayor's office hadn't made a good case for the airport site.

On the GM site, the city might have to compete with other developers that submitted proposals to the RACER Trust, a court-created entity that owns and is charged with cleaning up multiple old General Motors properties.

The RACER Trust received a fifth, unsolicited proposal within the past month, Redevelopment Manager Bruce Rasher said. The contents of the proposals are confidential, but all five have merit, he said. At the same time, Rasher said there's nothing to prevent the trust from continuing to market the property or even striking a deal with the city.

Several other urban brownfields were on the list of potential sites, and community redevelopment executives have wondered why the mayor's office didn't explore those more thoroughly. One is the former RCA television-components factory on Sherman Drive, about three miles east of the City-County Building downtown.

Near east-side neighborhoods wouldn't necessarily oppose the criminal-justice complex, said John Franklin Hay, executive director of Indy East Asset Development. The jail would be a turn-off for residents who are fed up with existing jails and a privately run halfway house, he said, but others just want to something to happen at the RCA site, which is in the heart of the community. They might see daytime traffic from lawyers and other professionals as beneficial, he said. 

Hay is disappointed that no one from the mayor's office has contacted him or other neighborhood groups to talk about having the justice center on the RCA site.

“We welcome the courtesy of discussion,” Hay said. “I think there is a much better way of even considering sites than what is currently being done.”

Before announcing the plan to seek bids on a new complex, Ballard's team worked with a task force that included a representative of the Marion County Sheriff's Office and other criminal justice system stakeholders.

The meetings announced Thursday were the first so far to include the general public.

The criminal justice site is going to face detractors, no matter where the mayor’s office zeroes in, said Abbe Hohmann, a veteran commercial real estate broker and president of Site Strategies Advisory.

“There would be maybe a greater confidence level with the decision if they could demonstrate a broad-based analysis of the sites on that list,” she said prior to Thursday's annoucement.

Hohmann, who sat on a Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee group that studied the relocation of courts and jails in 2011, said it's not clear how the 14-property list was created.

Almost every site on the list is at least 35 acres. Rosenberg said via email that the acreage requirement stems from a plan for low- to mid-rise buildings, which are less expensive than high-rises, so the complex can be built at “no new cost to taxpayers.”

The low-rise construction also would provide transportation efficiency, increase safety and keep costs down in a future expansion, Rosenberg said.

Hohmann said the list seemed heavy on properties that the city or other governmental entities own and wondered whether the mayor's office overlooked more suitable locations.

“A free site in the wrong place might be more costly than a site you have to pay for in the right place,” she said.


  • Where is the Vision!
    Where is the Vision! The Mayor voices a priority to increase the tax base within Marion County so we can afford critical services that we all depend on. This means attracting professionals wanting to work and live in and near the downtown area. The Mayor has stated that this is a critical component in keeping our City viable and goes hand in hand with quality of life in our City. Placing a Justice Center on this prime location will greatly reduce the chance for any future residential development. No one wants to be next door to a lets call it what it is, "A Jail". Oh, wait, except a Bail Bonds Business. That will be next.
  • Hmmm
    Funny how everyone says how easy it is to get to and from downtown when tourists/conventioneers are involved but its impossible for the judges. The easy answer is put the jail at the airport and leave the rest downtown. I also find it interesting that everyone is focused on location and not the merit of the project.
  • Greg
    I totally agree. Makes you wonder why the city spent over $100k to the Urban Land Institute and Mayor Hudnut to study this site and come up with the same conclusion. Actually, it really makes you wonder why the city would pay that kind of money for such a common sense idea.
  • Awful
    I am usually not one to be negative, but this is awful use of prime real estate along the white river. This should be Indy's signature area that would attract tourist and show off the lifestyle that one could have if relocating to Indianapolis. This should be parks, high-end residential areas, entertainment. The development should spark a complete restoration of the white river coastlines. This literally could have made Indianapolis the 'world-class city' that we desperately want to obtain. Keep this away from our only waterway and natural area in the city.
    • Saving Face
      An airport location was always the first choice. The Mayor is only making this decision because of the overwhelming - and deservedly so - criticism of choosing a site that causes an undue transportation hardship on the people who would use the facility. Was there any (real) cost/benefit analysis done for this project? How CBRE (Hendry) could give this a 9 out of 10 for highway AND bus access is mind boggling.
    • Combine the two Zoos
      Wouldn't it be great if we locked up the humans right next to where we lock up the animals?
    • Good idea
      Land Swap is a great idea.
    • Taxpayers deserve a REAL analysis
      Any company relocating and building with this kind of investment would have a professional, thorough analysis done - not a limited superficial guess. As a taxpayer, we deserve better. The Mayor's office and the "Dir of Enterprise" should wake up and realize this is not just some ordinary development project - it's a location decision that will impact the future of the entire downtown for decades. The GM site is still too far away and it wastes one of the LAST 100-acre sites in any downtown in the entire US.
      • Major Clean Up Needed by GM
        The west end of this GM site needs a major environmental clean up that may limit redevelopment. The clean up may exceed the cost of the Justice Center. The city has known about this since a letter was sent to then Mayor Goldsmith according to the WSJ http://projects.wsj.com/waste-lands/site/22-american-bearing-corp/
      • capital punishment
        If Indiana just replaced all prison terms with executions, then we wouldn't even need jails! I should run for office
      • Airport Site
        Tom, the airport site was not at the old terminal. It was almost at the Hendricks county line on Washington Street (near Raceway Road). There are a number of stop lights on this drive off 465 so this would have been at least a 20 minute drive and as others have pointed out, there is much more that goes into each hearing then just the drive time. I think the GM site is a much better solution to keep the courts close to downtown but moving them out of the CBD.
      • Extra 20 Minutes
        Joe, You don't understand the nature of criminal court proceedings. Until you get to the trial, most hearings up to that point last about 5 minutes long. An attorney traveling 20 (more like 25) out to the county line to have a five minute hearing and return back downtown, reduces dramatically the number of attorneys who will take criminal cases and it raises the fees those who remain would have to charge. Plus it would be extremely inconvenient to lawyers, judges, witnesses, jurors, etc. I think the Mayor realized that people in the criminal justice system would have revolted should he have tried to locate the justice system that far away from downtown.
      • Had to choose this site - Or MSA...
        He knew he would be sued if he chose a site that created a burden or hardship on the citizens who need access to it. MSA would be much better, along with cutting the third party out, but GM is the next best. It will be good for the area and will stretch downtown further west.
      • RE: Paul Ogden
        "Still there is no reason to involve a third party as owner with the city leasing the property." Um, then how are Mayor Ballard's contributors going to make any money out of this!?!?!
      • Great Selection
        As another person pointed out, this is only going to take up 35 acres of an over 100 acre site. I think the West end of this GM site is a great selection that balances the needs of the public and the courts. The remaining 65+ acres could still be developed into a concert venue or soccer stadium. Multi family housing could still be built on this site as part of a mixed use development. I'm not a big fan of the idea of suburban office buildings at this site as that just creates even more challenges for the existing office towers downtown that already face over 20% vacancy. Hopefully the mayor and his team can put together a mix of uses that complement each other on this site working with the development teams that have submitted proposals.
      • Paul Ogden
        Paul, If the jail weren't downtown would you still welcome it downtown? The jail being downtown hurts economic development. We shouldn't have a jail in the downtown area. A majority of the town shouldn't be hurt because a small percentage of lawyers have their feelings hurt because they have to drive an extra 20 mins.
      • Location
        This is a much better idea than locating the Justice Center out at the county line on the edge of the old airport property. (A better idea would have been to locate it at the old Market Square Arena site.) Still there is no reason to involve a third party as owner with the city leasing the property. That inevitably makes it much more expensive to pull off the deal. We are going to be using our credit rating anyway to get a loan to pay the private company, we should instead borrow the money as a mortgage and cut out the needless third party that would be owner.
      • Maybe The Current Location Is Best
        Why can't they redevelop and upgrade the current city county building, Marion County Jail I & II? Its located next to the new IndyGo bus station. It would be much cheaper. They already own the current buildings and the adjacent empty Market Square lots.
      • Housing
        While they will not most likely need all 100 plus acres, think new housing is no longer such a viable option.
      • Why Place A Jail Next To A Childrens Zoo & Public Park
        It would make much more sense to redevelop the former GM site as a recreational area with its prime location next to the Indianapolis Zoo, White River State Park, and rare river front access near Victory Field & Lucas Oil Stadium. It would be a perfect location for a "Indiana Jones" Amusement/water park, river boat dock, expansion of the zoo, new drive in theatre and site of a large outdoor concert/soccer stadium.
      • Good Call
        I applaud the mayor for picking the most logical site. The justice center needs to be centrally located in order to be easily accessible, especially by transit. Keep in mind that 10% of Marion County households don't own cars. Those family members, witnesses, and jurors should not be burdened with a potentially long trip to the far side of the county. On the Near West Side, the justice center can actually inject economic life into a neighborhood that could use it. And it would free up significant downtown real estate for taxable use. Let's hope this result stands and goes through.
      • Do We Really Need This Massive New Building?
        Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. While location is important, one needs to seriously question why they really need to build a massive new structure and if the approximately $400+ Million taxpayer cost (which will be financed in a unusually byzantine financial structure) should be able to proceed without a voter referendum. No one has even asked for the true taxpayer cost of vacating the current city county building, Marion County Jail I, & Marion County Jail II. How many more millions will it cost taxpayers to re-purposing and/or demolishing these empty public buildings? Just look at the $754 million Eskenazi Health/Wishard Hospital deal that left 17 buildings empty. Few people really know the true total cost of this deal. Certainly the $754 Million does not include redevelopment and demolition costs in a land swap with Indiana University. Everyone was just focused upon a shiny new building that has fewer operating rooms and patient beds than the previous hospital.
      • GM is 105 Acres
        The GM site is 105 acres, if the JC takes up 35 that leaves 70 acres. 10 for parking for the Zoo (I like the idea of relocating the Zoo parking to this site and enlarging the Zoo); 10 acres or so can be a river front park, 25 acres can be large floor plate suburban style office buildings, that stand a good chance of nabbing a corporate headquarters. That still leaves 15 more acres for something else.
      • Excellent Choice!
        My congrats to the Mayor's office after all, this is a good choice! RCA could be good too, but the so called airport was site was a joke. Have any of you other posters ever drive a little further west on Oliver Ave? Old rundown Industrial trash. Even the west end of the GM site is not a desirable residential potential. How in the world would a justice complex and jail ever affect a family attending the zoo? You obviously have no idea, or even been to a court room, APC, or a jail. If I remember right the arrested folks are locked up inside, and only the professional justice folks are on the outside. Good choice Mayor!!
      • Politics at work!
        The mayor is between a rock and a hard place. The downtown law businesses want the new building close to their current offices. The airport site is the best location, but no one wants to move their business WAY out there from downtown. In the meantime, the airport property sits empty for another 10 years while we talk about it some more. Frustrating to see how politics works. The GM site is perfect for a hotel/condo/ retail build. Why change that vision? Politics at work! Where was this discussion when the old Central State site was available? Politics at work!
      • No!!!
        I support Mayor Ballard but this decision is baffling. The GM site is a unique opportunity to expand the reach of White River State Park and create a great destination neighborhood and area that complements existing assets. Instead, this will tarnish the assets rather than polish them.
      • Bad Decision
        I'd say all the reasons why this is a bad decision, but I'd like to hold them for the public meeting so I don't have the Mayor's Office reading this blog and preparing for "crafted" responses to my and the neighborhood's issue with this.
      • Land
        City could consider a land swap arrangement in order to locate the justice complex on a more suitable site. e.g. "We'd really like to build our justice complex on your land but we don't want to buy it outright. How about you give us the land and we'll cut you in on the eventual GM redevelopment?" Find the prefect site first (location, location, location) and think about how to leverage City's real estate holdings second.
        • What a waste!
          If anyone has had an opportunity to view the downtown skyline from the former GM site, they would know that it affords the best vantage point of anywhere in the city. The residential and restaurant opportunities will now be wasted if a jail is sited on this property. There are several brownfield sites that need to be developed that would better serve the community. Perhaps the former Chrysler Foundry property could be purchased? The residents of West Indianapolis deserve a better shot in the arm than having all of the jails consolidated in their neighborhood.
        • Unreal
          This is beyond baffling - under this scenario, we have tourists and families heading to the zoo and criminals, lawyers and cops right across the way with nice views of downtown? What genius at the city feels it's a good idea to have the criminal justice system occupy space that could be redeveloped into a major attraction for the city and region?

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