City predicts rising property values around justice center

Mayor Greg Ballard’s deputies predict that a new justice center will have a positive impact on near-west-side property values.

It might be counterintuitive to imagine climbing property values in the vicinity of a 3,600-bed detention facility. And to be sure, most of the studies cited by the Mayor’s Office conclude that jails are neutral in their impact on neighborhoods.

The Mayor’s Office is willing to go a step further, however, considering that the new Marion County jail would be part of a larger campus hosting criminal courts and other justice-system functions. Between employees and court-system users, the center is expected to generate 3,600 visitors a day.

“We think it’ll help property values,” Director of Enterprise Development David Rosenberg told an audience of west-side residents at a meeting last Thursday.

The argument could be crucial for continuing to gather support for putting the new justice center on the grounds of the former General Motors stamping plant southwest of downtown and immediately west of White River. Ballard announced Friday that the city, through a request for proposals, will instruct bidders to design their plans for part of the GM site.

Once the Mayor’s Office chooses a private-sector partner, the City-County Council will have to approve a long-term lease between the city and justice center developer.

“My vote on the lease, no matter which site it ends up at, will be based on the neighbors’ thoughts at that time,” Republican City-County Councilor Jeff Miller said Friday. His district includes the GM site.

“So the administration must turn the high-level concepts we saw last night into a real plan,” Miller said.

Kurt Flock, a residential real estate broker who specializes in the near-downtown area, thinks the justice center probably will prompt commercial redevelopment, but he said a residential revival would take a concerted master-planning effort by city hall.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen unless the development is identical to Fall Creek Place,” Flock said, referring to the revitalized neighborhood north of downtown between 22nd Street and Fall Creek.

Neighborhoods southwest of downtown suffer high vacancy rates, and residential areas are side-by-side with industry.

"It lacks a cohesive neighborhood fabric that you find in so many areas in the northeast quadrant right now," Flock said.

The city plans to use about 40 acres in the northwest corner of the GM site while leaving the remaining 60-plus acres to another developer. The entity that controls the GM site, the Michigan-based RACER Trust, has yet to announce its choice of developer for the majority of the property.

Rosenberg and Adam Collins, deputy director for economic development, showed west-side residents potential plans for the city’s portion of the GM site, along with conceptual architectural renderings. Rosenberg said the jail would be “buried” within the justice center campus in order to minimize its impact on the surrounding area.

The city’s promises of infrastructure improvement and economic benefits seem to be overcoming objections to the presence of inmates, at least for some residents. Rosenberg and Collins fielded questions about how the city could encourage justice center users to travel off-campus for meals, and what it would take for people who work at the justice center to consider living on the west side.

Collins said the justice center will have limited on-site retail, so there will be a need for restaurants and other services in the surrounding area.

“We are confident it will raise property values,” Collins said.  

The main independent study of the impact of new jails cited by Ballard’s team goes back to 1987. It was conducted for the National Institute of Corrections by Florida Atlantic University/Florida International University’s Government Center for Environmental and Urban Problems. That study determined that “land values, public safety and quality of life were not adversly affected by the presence of correctional facilities.”

More recently, Seattle-based consultant Berk & Associates has concluded, “In general, studies have shown that the presence of a correctional facility does not create additional crime in the community, but among community members there may be a perception that crime is more prevalent.”

Last year, the firm conducted a study on the potential impact of a new jail in Ferndale, Wash., and found it would not have a negative impact on surrounding industrial sites. “There is some potential for impact to the nearby residential uses,” Berk concluded, according to The Bellingham Herald.

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