That site is on the northwest corner of airport property — a stone’s throw from the Hendricks County line.
Although it is designated as the “preferred site,” scoring highest among 14 properties considered in a preliminary evaluation by real estate firm CBRE, the airport location already has critics.
Chief among them are several Marion Superior Court judges.
In short, they say it’s too far from Downtown and too inaccessible by existing public transit. Judge Mark Stoner, who presides over a major-felony court, envisions the danger posed by victims, witnesses, defendants and jurors from overlapping cases riding in the same bus to the outlying airport site from transfer points Downtown.
There is much to like in an airport site because the land already is tax-exempt and readily available, but Stoner says another issue should take precedence.
“This is a constitutional issue for us,” Stoner said. It’s about “the public’s right to have ready access to the court system.”
Other judges who have voiced worry about the airport site include Becky Pierson-Treacy, James Osborn and Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg.As soon as Mayor Greg Ballard recently announced this plan to rely entirely on a private developer to build, operate and maintain a massive new criminal justice system that envisioned moving the entire criminal justice apparatus out of downtown Indianapolis to a new location, I knew that this project was being driven entirely by one law firm that controls every major decision made in the mayor's office and one private contractor with whom Sheriff John Layton has become a bit too cozy.
Sheriff Layton let the cat out of the bag when he mouthed off to reporters that a site near the airport was preferable because it would make it more accessible for federal inmates who the federal government would pay to house at the jail, which could help offset costs for running the jail. The current private operator of Marion Co. Jail II, Corrections Corporation of America, which is expected to bid on the project, currently houses some federal inmates and immigration detainees at that jail under contract with the feds. Barnes & Thornburg, which is paid to advise Mayor Ballard and for all practical purposes exercises total control over his administration, also represents CCA regarding its current contract with the county to operate Jail II.
It is sickening beyond belief that our taxpayer dollars were used to pay money to a politically-connected consultant to produce a bogus report to stack the deck in favor of the private developer the downtown mafia has already decided behind closed doors is going to win this half-billion dollar project. This is the same consultant that the City agreed to pay at least a million bucks to assist it in relocating a downtown fire station, IFD headquarters and the Firefighter's Credit Union from their current location on Mass Avenue. The consultant came up with a site in Lockerbie owned by developer Joe Whitsett, who had previously committed to the neighborhood to build a suitable residential development on the parcel. The neighborhood exploded in outrage upon learning of the change in plans, and it was clear during a meeting with the neighborhood that this high-paid consultant had performed zero due diligence in picking that site other than to accommodate a backroom deal the Mayor's Office was trying to make with the developer regardless of what the neighborhood thought.
After much teeth gnashing, the Mayor's Office moved to Plan B to relocate the IFD headquarters and fire station to the site of the Red Cross, which had to be paid to relocate to a new site on Meridian Street, and the credit union had to be paid to relocate to another site near College and Mass Avenue, a move that will cost taxpayers more than double the original projected costs, keeping in mind the only reason for the deal in the first place was to free up a prime piece of land on Mass Ave for development by another pay-to-play developer to be partially funded by the city's taxpayers. None of these deals have anything to do with what's in the best interest of the public; they're always about what's going to make the most money for the pay-to-play developers who've paid off the politicians.
By moving the criminal justice complex out of downtown, the Mayor's Office will kill four birds with one stone. With the completion of the Eskanazi Hospital project, the pay-to-play contractors are demanding a large new public works project to perpetuate their racket. The project itself can be rigged to favor the private developer the Mayor's Office has already decided in consultation with the law firm client that is driving the project. The large payments to be made for decades to come assures a steady stream of money flowing into the downtown racket that benefits from the project. By moving the criminal justice complex outside of downtown, prime parcels of land housing the two jails and the Sheriff's Department can be redeveloped, naturally with taxpayer subsidies, to make even more money for the pay-to-play developers. And finally, by moving the criminal justice system out of the downtown area, the downtown mafia hopes that it can clear out what it views as the blight created by low-income whites and minorities who make up a disproportionate share of criminal offenders.
Mayor Ballard claims that the reason it makes sense to rely on a private developer to build, operate and maintain the new criminal justice system is because it can be accomplished without raising taxes. That's a claim that is not sustainable over time because anyone with a brain can figure out that undertaking the project in this fashion will cost taxpayers a lot more money over time. Radio talk show host Amos Brown did some simple math in his latest column to make this point:
Two years ago, a group analyzed what it would take to build a facility like this and they came up with an outrageous estimate of $500 million. Lucas Oil Stadium cost $750 million. So do they want us to believe this combination of courtrooms, jails and office space would cost almost as much as that stadium?
On “Afternoons with Amos,” Lotter said the sheriff and other government agencies currently spend some $19 million yearly on rent. Over a 30-year lease that comes to some $570 million.
But if the cost of constructing the new justice center is $500 million, that doesn’t include interest payments on the debt the private entity would have to obtain to build the facility. And it doesn’t include the 15 to 20 percent profit margin the private developer would charge to make their money on the deal.
Lotter’s rent projections are far too low.Brown also raises in his column a valid concern about the negative economic impact moving the entire criminal justice complex out of downtown will have on area businesses. All the freed up space in the City-County Building will allow other employees to be consolidated into the building, resulting in more vacant commercial property downtown, which already has a high vacancy rate of 20%. Law firms, bail bond companies and other businesses located downtown only because that's where the criminal justice complex is currently located might also relocate out of downtown if the criminal justice complex is no longer located there. And of course, a central location for the criminal justice system makes it the best location for those it serves, but that's the least of the concerns of those pushing this project for their own self-serving ends.