Development emerges slowly at Indy’s justice campus

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Development has been slow to emerge around the Community Justice Campus since it opened in 2022 in the Twin Aire neighborhood. (IBJ Media file photo).

There haven’t been any law firms or bail bonding companies that have leased space near the Indianapolis-Marion County Community Justice Campus in the Twin Aire neighborhood since the 140-acre campus opened in 2022.

But Gary Perel, a principal and senior director of retail at ALO Property Group LLC, thinks the neighborhood is primed for redevelopment.

To that end, ALO is working on a lease with a potential tenant for a 3,300-square-foot restaurant on the ground floor of a professional services building on the north side of the campus.

Perel said it’s been his primary goal to find a restaurant tenant for the building.

“This is what folks in the building are looking for,” Perel said, noting there aren’t many restaurant options in the area.

ALO hopes to have a lease executed with that tenant as soon as next week. If that happens, Perel estimated the restaurant could be open by fall.

Perel said there were originally two commercial buildings planned on the site, with the second building to offer an additional 80,000 square feet of potential office space.

Redevelopment ideas for Twin Aire have been percolating since 2016 when it was selected by the Indianapolis branch of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. as one of five neighborhoods in its Great Places community development and investment initiative.

Shortly thereafter, the administration of Mayor Joe Hogsett announced it had chosen the neighborhood’s former Citizens Energy coke plant at 2900 Prospect St. as the site for the Community Justice Campus. That resulted in $590 million in construction for a new jail, courts and ancillary services and the the moving of Marion County’s courts from downtown’s City-County Building to the southeast-side campus.

A Great Places strategy for Twin Aire, released in 2018, included a development plan built around the campus, outlining dozens of potential commercial, transportation and infrastructure projects. City and neighborhood leaders have expressed hopes that the opening of the campus would spur redevelopment in Twin Aire, but change has been slow to take root.

Aliya Wishner, the city’s director of communications and policy, told The Indiana Lawyer via email the city has been pleased to see some new developments in the nearby strip center and elsewhere.

“Kroger is in the process of undergoing renovations that are anticipated to be complete this year–not only keeping but improving a critical point of food access for the neighborhood. Infrastructure improvements have been underway in the area, including the trail along Southeastern, a rehabilitation of the Pleasant Run Greenway and a roundabout at English and Southeastern,” Wishner said.

Wishner said seven public buildings have been constructed to date on the CJC site, with plans for additional buildings in the future.

The Community Justice Campus is home to the Marion County Courts, housing 71 courtrooms shared by 37 superior and circuit court judges, as well as 45 magistrate judges.

In addition to the courts, the campus also includes the Marion County Jail, the Marion County Public Defender Agency, Marion County Probation Department and a Youth and Family Services Center.

Whether more government agencies, such as the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, will move their offices to the campus remains unclear.

Michael Leffler, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, said he did not have an update on any potential move.

“The prosecutor’s office will continue to be open to exploring potential opportunities as they emerge,” Leffler said in an email.

Ryan Mears

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears was not available for an interview.

Mears has previously said his team is still trying to determine whether moving to the campus was preferable to staying downtown in Two Market Square Center, a Class B office building at 251 E. Ohio St.

He said the hesitancy arises from concerns over how such a move could increase the prosecutor’s operating costs, particularly since his office already signed a much less expensive 16-year, three-month lease extension in 2017.

“This has been a financially driven conversation, in terms of what’s ultimately going to be the cost” of going there “and what are going to be the costs associated with moving,” Mears said in 2021.

Multiple real estate sources said a move to the CJC would cost the prosecutor’s office an additional $7 to $8 per foot per year after factoring in development costs, utilities and other expenses, according to Indianapolis Business Journal.

Kim Reeves, vice president of development services for Browning Investments, also told IBJ in 2021 that any plans for a second professional building at the Community Justice Campus site were “in the hands of the city” and contingent upon finalizing contracts with the Prosecutor’s Office as its anchor tenant.

“The trigger for building No. 2 is based on the prosecutor,” she said. “We’ll work with the city to see how large the second building needs to be” if it moves forward.

She said the building would likely have three to five stories with per-floor square footage that is similar to the first building. It would also include some first-floor commercial uses.

Move of courts not welcomed by all

For some of the downtown attorneys and businesses linked to the legal system, the move of the courts, jail and other city departments from downtown to Twin Aire has eliminated the previous easy access to the judiciary.

Robert Hammerle

Robert Hammerle, an of-counsel attorney specializing in criminal law at Hackman Hulett LLP, said the move of the courts was “regrettable” and had impacted attorneys on multiple levels.

“It’s left downtown a lawyer’s wasteland,” Hammerle said.

Hammerle said that, for lawyers and anyone visiting the Community Justice Campus, there is nowhere to go in terms of restaurants in the area.

He said people on jury duty are getting notice to bring their own lunches due to lack of outside eating options.

Access to court staff is also restricted and the interactions with other attorneys and judges is limited, unlike when court services were consolidated downtown.

“There was a closeness that developed. It was significant. Now that’s all gone,” Hammerle said.

J.P. Penn is the owner of downtown’s J.P. Bail Bonding. He’s been at 114 N. Delaware St. for almost 20 years.

When the courts and jail were still downtown, Penn was able to get walk-in traffic at his bail bonding business, something he said no longer happens during court hours.

“I no longer even go to the office now. I’m on call,” Penn said.

Penn said the move of the courts and jail to Twin Aire came as he was dealing with the emerging prominence of cash bonds, the COVID-19 pandemic and a gradual slowing of business.

He used to have multiple agents and his doors were never locked. Now, it’s just Penn and another agent.

“So, a lot has changed,” Penn said.

Attorneys staying put in downtown Indy

Jeff Cardella

When the move was announced, Jeff Cardella wondered initially if there would be a mass exodus of attorneys from the downtown area to Twin Aire.

Cardella, an Indianapolis criminal defense and expungement attorney with an office on Massachusetts Avenue, acknowledged he also considered buying or renting a building in Twin Aire and leasing it out to bail bond companies and/or attorneys.

He said he has no interest in moving his office to be closer to the CJC.

Pre-pandemic, with the way the law was practiced, Cardella would drive downtown every day, park at his office, walk over to the City-County building and do morning sessions.

Then, he’d walk back to his office for lunch before heading back to the courts for afternoon legal work.

“It was basically half of my day was spent in the City-County building. And I just had to be within walking distance of it,” Cardella said.

After COVID ushered in the expanded use of remote, electronic options for court hearings and client consultations, things changed for Cardella.

He does expungements all over the state now in counties ranging from Dearborn to Lake.

Cardella said there are times when people have to show up for things in person, but he’s able to cast a wider geographic net.

He also does depositions via Zoom calls, although Cardella added that, for civil cases, he thought most attorneys were still doing those in person.

“Being close to this one specific building, it’s just not that important,” Cardella said.

Attorney/client interactions have also changed a lot in the last five years, Cardella noted, with it not being rare now to not meet a client in-person for an expungement case, given online payment options and the technical ability to communicate remotely.

Cardella said he has not heard anyone complain too much about the new CJC site.

One advantage of it is that it has ample parking, something Cardella said was sometimes an issue when the courts were located at the City-County building.

Kevin Potts owns Potts LLC, a downtown criminal defense and personal injury firm located on East Washington Street.

Potts said he did not anticipate or see the need to locate closer to the CJC and described the neighborhood around the campus as still underdeveloped.

With the influx of virtual hearings as well as virtual jail visitation, Potts said it has cut down on the need for day-to-day travel to court.

For Potts, the only downfall is that the move has significantly diminished the personal relationships amongst attorneys, judges and court staff.

“This creates many issues in communication, litigation and case resolution, not to mention the loss of camaraderie amongst the criminal justice community,” Potts said.

Future redevelopment around campus

Penn said he’s not opposed to changing locations, even though he’s been downtown for such an extended period.

At the moment, there’s no available space for lease for him in Twin Aire, Penn noted.

“It would depend on if it could fit my needs,” he said, adding that he would prefer a storefront location like his current site, as well as suitable lighting and a reasonable price.

Penn said he’d like to see a dedicated shuttle running from the City-County building to the jail.

The city released a request for proposal in 2023 regarding redevelopment of the Twin Aire Shopping Center and Twin Aire Drive-In sites.

After receiving five bids, the city held a public meeting where developers discussed their proposed redevelopment plans.

In its statement of need, the city noted that competitive responses would include:

Prioritizing redevelopment of the Twin Aire Shopping Center with expanded mixed use and retail opportunities with an emphasis on preservation and expansion of grocery anchor tenant.

Redevelopment of the Twin Aire Drive-in Site with an emphasis on single family homeownership opportunities and multifamily development–both with a mixture of housing types including workforce and affordable housing options.

Specific component that includes retail and office space for government, nonprofit, health, or career development organizations.

Incorporation of community amenities and benefits.

Wishner said the city and Health and Hospital Corporation are actively engaging in conversations with the developers hat were recommended for selection by the selection committee to thoroughly vet respondent teams and their proposals.

“Once we have finalized negotiations, we will share more information on the planned development phasing and timeline,” Wishner said.

Parel said the goal of building the Community Justice Center was to spur development in the Twin Aire neighborhood.

He said it’s also brought road infrastructure improvements and investments in residential real estate.

A big reason is the more than 2,000 people working at the Community Justice Campus, with close to 4,000 people traveling to the area on a daily basis.

He expects that kind of traffic to help the area “fill in” over the next decade, with more businesses and office space along Southeastern Avenue and surrounding streets.

The Indianapolis Department of Public Works also plans to build a $2.1 million trail along Southeastern Avenue to connect the Twin Aire neighborhood and the city’s Community Justice Campus with downtown.

Construction of the multi-use trail is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

It will stretch for just over one mile along the north side of Southeastern Avenue from Washington Street to Leeds Avenue, near Rural Street.

Wishner said the Southeastern Avenue Multi-Use Trail is under construction and is expected to be completed later this year.•

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8 thoughts on “Development emerges slowly at Indy’s justice campus

  1. There’s a few rundown builds still standing at the intersection of Rural and Southeastern Ave. Get those demo’d or remodeled into new housing and the whole area will look fantastic.

  2. Yes, there is a bad liquor store right on the point there that needs to go.

    And the “Southeastern Trail” won’t actually go to the CJC and it won’t connect with the Pleasant Run Trail either.

    We can do better than this.

  3. There were real problems with the old set up that couldn’t be fixed. I think everyone knew it would take time for things to settle in the Twin Aire area. It’s too early yet to complain.

    I do find it interesting how the pandemic and changes to electronic systems have made huge changes in the way things operate.

    I will say that “close camaraderie” might not have always been a good thing. I was once observing a hearing for a drunken driving case as the victim. The defense lawyer approached the judge at a break to share pictures of himself, the judge, and the defendant at the same political fund raiser.

  4. Civil/business attorney here. Been getting a bit tired of having to drive to the courthouse now. Have an office downtown in large part because that is where the courts are. I like the new facilities, but I have mixed feelings about moving the civil courts out of the downtown business district. At first I thought they were only going to move the criminal justice components.

  5. Well folks, let’s quit the complaining about having to jump into your cars and driving from downtown to the CJC. How about “good old tax black hole” INDY GO? Take the famed bus rapid transit and you’ll be there in no time at all. But the likely route would be via Southeastern Avenue to the CJC; that will take a pretty massive upgrading, and big bucks, of Southeastern to so-called dedicated-bus only-lanes so the travel can truly be “RAPID”. And there will be money to do that after Hogsett reneges on the City’s executed deal with Keystone and the INDY 11 development and soccer stadium. Marion County needs help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Pat, I know you *think* you wrote something coherent, but it comes across like you might be suffering from a brain aneurysm. Get to a doctor stat! You definitely need an MRI.

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