Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Attorneys React Negatively To Ballard's Plan To Build Criminal Justice Project At Airport Next To Hendricks County

A plan the administration of Mayor Greg Ballard has been quietly working on for some time to privatize the development of a new criminal justice complex at a site near the Indianapolis International Airport near the county line with Hendricks County is getting pushback from members of the legal profession whose careers have been built around the courts, jails and other criminal justice agencies being centrally located in downtown Indianapolis. The move to relocate criminal justice agencies out of downtown is being driven by real estate developers who contribute large sums to Ballard's campaign who want the city to turn over valuable downtown property now occupied by the two downtown jails and the Sheriff's department to them for commercial development and the private jail contractor which operates Marion County Jail II, Corrections Corporation of America. The IBJ's Dave Stafford shares the reaction of the legal community to the plan:
Indianapolis International Airport may be officials’ preferred location for a proposed Criminal Justice Complex, but attorneys who work in the system are critical of the idea.
“It cannot work,” said James Edgar, Criminal Justice Section chair for the Indianapolis Bar Association. He noted the logistical challenges of a roughly 40-minute commute from downtown and the difficulty of transporting defendants and court users to a site almost in Hendricks County.
“You’re going to take those 2,500 jobs and plop them on the doorstep of Plainfield,” Edgar said of attorneys, court and jail staff and the supporting workforce that he estimated would be displaced from downtown by the move. That equates to about $5 million a year just from those workers buying lunch, he said.
Edgar said the Criminal Justice Section’s membership of about 260 was largely unaware of the proposal and the favored airport site when he emailed them about it recently, but their responses were uniform. “None of them like the idea of going out to the airport. … The concept of moving it that far from downtown is just alarming to many people who make their living in and around the City-County Building.”
Marc Lotter, spokesman for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said the airport site hasn’t officially been selected for the complex, though it did score highest among sites the city evaluated.
Lotter said what’s clear, though, is that the complex won’t be downtown.
“It’s too costly to build a new facility downtown and also wouldn’t be the best use of real estate downtown,” he said . . .
Too costly to build downtown? Yeah, that wasn't an impediment for construction of the $750 million Eskenazi Hospital by the Marion Co. Health & Hospital Corporation.

While the IBJ story focuses on the reaction of the legal community to the planned relocation of the criminal justice center to the airport, a remote location is equally as problematic for offenders, the family members of offenders, jurors, witnesses and others who are impacted by the location of the courts and jails. Those actors benefit as well from having a centrally-located criminal justice system. Again, we are seeing plans undertaken by the powers that be regarding downtown Indianapolis that benefit only an elite handful of political insiders who profiteer from governmental decisions. The principal reason for moving the criminal justice center to the airport site is so a private operator of the jail, such as Corrections Corporation of America, which is expected to bid on the development of a new criminal justice center, can benefit from close access to the airport for its con air prison bedding business.

Fellow blogger and urban development guru Aaron Renn pens this thoughtful comment at the IBJ's website on the proposed airport site:
I applaud the idea of a justice center located away from downtown, but the airport idea is fatally flawed. Being on the fringe of the county, it would be burdensome for families or witnesses to travel there. That alone should make it a non-starter. But it would also put hundreds of deputies and other employees right on the doorstep of Hendricks County. A Marion County sheriff's deputy is the perfect profile of person to move to Plainfield or Avon. Why in the world would you want to basically lay out an open invitation for so many people to relocate out of the county? The same is true of law offices, lunch places, etc. that could be around the new justice center. These could easily be located across the border. Spending north of $300 million on what would be a de facto economic development project for Hendricks County makes no sense. I think the sheriff spilled the beans in a previous IBJ article. The airport site was tapped from the beginning because they want to use it as a profit center to house federal inmates in transport and such. Not a bad concept and one I think warranted exploration, but in the broader context not the best move. By the way, I don't hate Hendricks County and want to see it thrive. I just don't think Marion County government facilities should be the engine of that growth. As locals complain about a lack of love from the state house on transit and such, keep in mind this is an entirely locally controlled project. Putting the justice center to the airport would be an unforced error by local government. If Marion County wants to staunch the bleeding of people, businesses, income, spending, and tax revenue to the collar counties, the first  step is not to shoot yourself in the foot. The first step in getting out of a hole? Stop digging.
UPDATE: The IBJ has a follow-up story reporting that the Ballard administration has received proposals from five groups of developers but tells the public it's none of your damn business who is in the bidding to seize total control of Marion County's criminal justice system as a gift made possible by a single law firm that has already seized complete control of city-county government under this mayor.
The groups, whom city officials would not identify, have national and international experience and have worked on similar facilities, Mayor Greg Ballard's spokesman Marc Lotter said. The deadline for responding to the city's request for qualifications was Tuesday.
A review team of city and county officials, plus private-sector advisers, will narrow the field by sometime this spring, Lotter said . . .
The complex would require as much as 35 acres of land and add 1,000 jail beds and 30 new courtrooms. Lotter said the location will be chosen in time to present it to the finalist bidders, who will then be asked to draw up specific plans.
Ballard's office is meeting with lawyers, judges and other stakeholders to discuss their concerns and potential sites for the complex.
City-County Council President Maggie Lewis said she has been inundated with calls from people concerned about not having a centralized, downtown location for courts and related services, as well as from west-side residents who don't want jails in their area. She's trying to organize town hall meetings on the topic for March.
Note from blog reader: Why isn't the Indiana Law Blog covering this issue?

Answer: Good question. It's only the biggest topic on the mind of attorneys in Indianapolis right now.


Flogger said...

The Democrats have been mighty silent on this potential slick trick.

Unknown said...

It's going to be fun to watch witnesses, victims, and criminals all riding the same bus out to the court building.
Hope they plan on putting armed officers on the buses.

Anonymous said...

"Will there be a Walking Bridge to My Office" Dept.?

Anonymous said...

So this really comes down to attorneys being inconvenienced? No sympathy here. The proposed airport site is just 10 miles from the CCB, or about 20 minutes drive time. I guarantee there will be plenty of FREE parking at that site. Plus, I'm pretty sure the busses run west on Washington St from downtown. No NIMBYism here because there IS no neighborhood to complain. Only proposed site that doesn't have that issue. These arguments against the airport site are fatally flawed.

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about? Attorneys aren't the only people complaining; read the comments in the IBJ articles. The site is not actually at the old airport terminal. It's essentially in Hendricks County and it is not currently accessible by bus transit. Besides, even it is was, do you realize how long it would take to get on a bus from anywhere in the city to get to the proposed site?

The proposed site on the far west side makes no sense long term or short term. It really speaks to the lack of a cohesive vision by Mayor Ballard's office. At one point, Ryan Vaughn states that the city needs to attract more middle and high income people to live in Indianapolis. Then, literally days later, they announce moving the courts that employ the very people they are trying to attract to Indianapolis to an area right next door to the rapidly expanding suburbs. If you work for the MCSD and are not required to live in Marion County, why the would you stay in the city after the justice center moves? You think that anyone who goes to this proposed justice center will patronize any businesses or restaurants within city limits? Of course not! Almost all the development on far west side is in Hendricks County! I apologize for the lack of cohesiveness in this comment but it's difficult to be composed when you are trying to comprehend another one of Ballard's mind boggling proposals.

Unigov said...

to anonymous at 9:51, don't be juvenile. putting the facility that far from the courts is an idiotic waste of time for everyone involved. that ballard would choose that site, and be secretive about it, is further evidence that he is mentally ill.

besides, it's too far from the city's new cricket field.

but seriously, wtf is maggie lewis doing? do the dems realize they control the city?

Unigov said...

btw regarding proximity to hendricks county, i think impd/mcsd are required to live in marion county. also the eastern few miles of southeast hendricks county don't have restaurants, nor much of anything. US 40 from raceway westward is rather desolate til you get close to metropolis.