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2015 TOP STORIES: Justice center project falls apart

December 26, 2015

Mayor Greg Ballard’s ambitious plan to create a public-private partnership to get a new justice center off the ground didn’t go exactly as planned.

In his final year as mayor, Ballard proposed having the city pay Paris-based WMB Heartland Justice Partners $1.6 billion over 35 years to build and operate a new courthouse and jail at the former General Motors stamping plant site.

But opposition to the plan, which originally called for the city to pay the WMB Heartland group $46.8 million each year, quickly mounted in the Democrat-controlled City-County Council.

It was first quashed in April by the council’s Rules Committee after an analysis of the deal asserted the city could face shortfalls over the next 10 years of up to $37 million in trying to pay for the facility.

Some members said the matter was best left until after the election so the new mayor would have a chance to vet the partnership.

In mid-June, the council decided not to consider a revised justice center plan that would have reduced the construction cost from $408 million to $390.5 million.

Joe Hogsett, a Democrat who would later win the November mayoral election, came out in April against the justice center deal, despite acknowledging that he believed a new jail is needed. He said the city “should engage in a robust examination of all available financing models” to make it happen in the future.

After the election, Hogsett said his goal is to try to “move the ball forward as quickly as possible to find a long-term solution.”

Regardless, he’ll have to find a new location. After Ballard’s deal fell through, REI Investments Inc. agreed to buy about half of the 102-acre stamping plant site. The firm plans a 10,000-seat concert amphitheater.

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