Justice center plan needs additional bid process for key offices

The proposed criminal justice center deal before the Indianapolis City-County Council will be just the first of at least two long-term, multi-million dollar contracts. A second contract to be presented to the council later is expected to increase total construction costs by $35 million to $54 million.

That’s because the plan scheduled for an April 20 council vote doesn’t include an eight-story law office building to house prosecutor, public defender and probation offices as originally envisioned when the city sent requests for proposals to potential developers. The city will bid that building separately, according to revised RFPs.

“Are we concerned that there’s no law office included in this project? Yes, absolutely,” Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said in an interview. He said a complex built without a law office building could create a “logistical nightmare” for his office and others that occupy space in or near the City-County Building.

“Those fears are completely unfounded,” said David Rosenberg, deputy chief of staff for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. “Once we see council approval on April 20, at that time we’ll be moving forward on the second phase as well.”

Rosenberg said the law office building “will open at the same time as the rest of the campus and will be part of the integrated campus with the courthouse.”

But not without additional cost the council will have to approve. Rosenberg estimated a law office building on the campus would cost $35 million to $40 million, but a feasibility analysis prepared for the city in 2013 put the cost at $54 million.

WMB Heartland Partners was selected in December to finance, build, operate and maintain a $408 million combined jail and court complex at the site of the former General Motors stamping plant west of downtown. When developers initially received requests for proposals, the law office was included as part of the package, but it was later dropped from the overall plan.

The city has agreed to pay WMB annual installments of about $46 million in 2019 to more than $65 million toward the end of the 35-year term, according to a fiscal analysis commissioned by the City-County Council. The analysis says the total cost of fees paid for the justice center for that period would top $1.9 billion.

Marion County Chief Public Defender Robert Hill said he supports the justice center, but he’s concerned about the proposal currently before the council not including the law office building.

“I have had concerns that the prosecutors’ office and the probation department are not included in the design as currently before the council,” Hill said. “Something may change, who knows what may happen, and I’ve expressed those concerns.”
“We certainly need a new justice center,” he said, “but without the presence on campus of the prosecutor, public defender and probation, it’s going to make it inefficient if not unworkable for us."

Rosenberg said a request for proposals for the law office will likely be put out for public bid this summer. He said it made more sense to bid the building separately, because Class A and Class B office building construction is less expensive than a jail/courthouse complex, costs could be amortized over a shorter period, and local builders would get a better shot at the contract.

He said stakeholders have known about the process for 14 months and have had input on the plan.

But Curry, a Democrat, said he’s never endorsed the entire proposal put forth by Republican Ballard and Democratic Sheriff John Layton. Curry said his position has been consistent – he recognizes the need for a new jail, but not necessarily a facility relocating and consolidating court-related facilities.

“I’ve never believed it was absolutely necessary to co-locate the courts and jail,” Curry said.

“We were sort of spectators to this project, bystanders,” he said.

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