EDITORIAL:Don't be careless with prime site

July 12, 2014

The Indiana Finance Authority is wise to take its time deciding what might happen to the full square block of surface parking immediately north of the Statehouse. Discussion so far has focused on redeveloping the prominent tract for apartments, parking and perhaps retail space, but it might be best suited to satisfying long-festering state needs.

The block, bounded by Ohio and New York streets and Senate and Capitol avenues, has for at least the last 30 years been considered the best site for a state judicial complex that would house the Indiana Supreme Court, the Indiana Court of Appeals, state tax courts and court administrative offices.

Such a plan would unify court functions now split between the Statehouse and rented space, and it would remedy lax security for the courts. Just as important, it would free up space in the Statehouse that could be used by the cramped legislative branch, which doesn’t have adequate space to house staff or for legislators to meet with constituents.

The movement to build a judicial complex gained steam at least twice since the 1980s, once getting as far as the governor’s desk before being vetoed. In recent years, with belt-tightening and anti-government sentiment settling in at the Statehouse, there’s been little appetite for such planning. But space needs and security concerns remain and in some cases have grown.

Those are the best reasons to resurrect discussion of a judicial complex. Yes, building it would require spending money. But interest rates remain low, and vacating private-sector space would save taxpayers some money. On the jobs front, construction employment would benefit from a big public works project, whether developed by the state or by a private entity—the route the city is taking for its justice complex.

Unlike the city, which had no obvious location for its complex, the state controls its best site. And it’s already in the process of deciding what to do with it.

As reported last week, the Indiana Finance Authority has just finished evaluating five ideas submitted by private-sector developers who responded to the state’s request for solutions to its parking needs. Three of those—from Flaherty & Collins, Keystone Realty Group and Browning—suggested mixed-use development, including a parking garage, on or under the block north of the Statehouse. Flaherty & Collins’ response, besides a parking garage, included 330 apartments and 24,000 square feet of retail space in a $75 million development.

The state’s response, rather than immediately issuing a request for formal development proposals, was to tap the brakes and re-evaluate its options. We take that as a good sign. The unmet space needs of the legislative and judicial branches of government aren’t going away. The state shouldn’t be too quick to give away its best option for satisfying those needs.•


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