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Indy attorney: airport site 'cannot' work for justice complex

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Editor's note: Indianapolis attorney James Edgar, chair of the Indianapolis Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, discusses his views on the proposed relocation of the criminal justice complex. The Indianapolis Bar Association has taken no official position on proposed sites.

Indianapolis International Airport may be officials’ preferred location for a proposed Criminal Justice Complex, but some 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.

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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.

“The airport site has a lot of attractive features. It’s off the tax roll and it’s already municipally owned,” Lotter said. The airport also has room for expansion with ample room for construction of private businesses that would be needed to support the complex, and could be connected to downtown with enhanced mass transit.

Lotter said potential developers aren’t drafting proposals with a particular site as a guide.

Edgar said IndyBar long has advocated for a Criminal Justice Complex that would combine jail and court facilities along with prosecutor, public defender, probation and other criminal-court-related offices.

“Everyone I’ve talked to wants to be part of the process of building something great, and no one’s talking about shutting down a good idea,” he said. “Everyone is alarmed at the prospect of being that far away.”

Initial formal responses to the city from potential development teams were due Feb. 11, beginning a period of review culminating with selection of a developer in September, according to a project timeline released last year.

David Rosenberg, director of enterprise development for the city, told a meeting of the general term of Marion Superior judges Feb. 3 that, “as far as location, no decision has been made” with regard to the complex. He told judges the city expected “solid teams from all over the world” to answer the city’s request for qualifications.

The airport ranks as the preferred site in a market survey of 14 potential sites conducted for the city by the real-estate services firm CBRE.

“Given criteria outlined previously and the site specific pros and cons, and pursuant to a scoring matrix – it is CBRE’s recommendation that the Indianapolis International Airport be identified as the preferred site for the Criminal Justice Complex.”

The site identified is 35 acres on the airport fringe near West Washington Street, east of Raceway Road. CBRE said the site’s strengths include current control by a municipal corporation, immediate availability and room for future expansion. Its location far from the city center is the chief weakness listed, and the survey notes the development could require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The CBRE study said it would provide a “backup” preferred site if the city requested. CBRE noted the survey was preliminary, and no property owners had been contacted as part of its analysis.

david certo Certo

The former GM stamping plant site is the second-highest scoring of the 14 that CBRE rated on a scoring matrix. An attorney who attended a recent presentation about the proposed complex to the IndyBar said most attorneys favored the stamping plant site.

CBRE graded each site on a scale of 1 to 10 for size, location, use, access, speed to development, limitations and impact. A site near the Marion County Fairgrounds ranked third, closely followed by the South Grove Golf Course site and another site near the fairgrounds along Southeastern Avenue. The former Indiana Women’s Prison site rated lowest.

Ballard, Marion County Sheriff John Layton and other city and county officials announced plans for a Criminal Justice Complex in December.

Marion Superior Executive Committee Chairman Judge David Certo said at the Feb. 3 general term meeting that judges want to understand the needs of the practicing bar and also noted that the IndyBar for years has been calling for development of a criminal justice complex.

It’s unclear how much a proposed complex could cost, but officials have said the reduction in duplication of services and efficiencies that would be gained would allow for construction of the site without a tax increase.

The request for qualifications sets out parameters for the complex, calling for total construction of facilities covering 1.4 million square feet, or roughly the size of seven to eight typical Wal-Mart Supercenters.

A timeline for the project calls for the City-County Council to receive a proposal from the selected developer in September with groundbreaking early next year and opening in late 2018.

“The process appears to be moving quickly,” Certo said.  

Edgar said the speed of the process was concerning to bar members, some of whom feel their voices aren’t being heard.

“Part of the perception is … if (the jail, courts and related offices) could just be removed, it would open up downtown for development,” Edgar said. But, he added, that ignores the value those services provide, their current impact on the economy, and the impact it would have wherever those service are located.

Downtown businesses, Edgar said, also would be “impacted by the loss of hundreds of jurors and defendants who eat and shop around the City-County Building. From my dialogue with several businesses, they do not feel they can survive without us.”

Lotter, though, said the city isn’t concerned about filling the void created with the departure of the jail, criminal courts in the City-County Building and affiliated offices and businesses.

“Indianapolis is growing exponentially. It’s anticipated by Indianapolis Downtown Inc. that 3,500 new residential units are online to come into downtown in the next three to four years,” he said. “We believe because of the influx of residential and continuing growth of the business sector that transition will be quickly absorbed.”

Edgar, though, said the city may not have calculated fully what it may lose.

“My hope is that we can start using the phrase ‘criminal justice industry’ and view ourselves as a valuable economic asset,” he said. “We should receive the same level of consideration given to any other major employer in our city.”•

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  • baaaad idea
    Jim Edgar is right. To be frank its an awful idea that would be a hassle for the system and bad for metro indy. which in turn would be bad for the whole state. only peeps who would make out are developers. no doubt this is an idea recommended by them.

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  1. Not enough copperheads here to care anymore, is my guess. Otherwise, a totally pointless gesture. ... Oh wait: was this done because somebody want to avoid bad press - or was it that some weak kneed officials cravenly fear "protest" violence by "urban youths.."

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  5. All these sites putting up all the crap they do making Brent Look like A Monster like he's not a good person . First off th fight actually started not because of Brent but because of one of his friends then when the fight popped off his friend ran like a coward which left Brent to fend for himself .It IS NOT a crime to defend yourself 3 of them and 1 of him . just so happened he was a better fighter. I'm Brent s wife so I know him personally and up close . He's a very caring kind loving man . He's not abusive in any way . He is a loving father and really shouldn't be where he is not for self defense . Now because of one of his stupid friends trying to show off and turning out to be nothing but a coward and leaving Brent to be jumped by 3 men not only is Brent suffering but Me his wife , his kids abd step kidshis mom and brother his family is left to live without him abd suffering in more ways then one . that man was and still is my smile ....he's the one real thing I've ever had in my life .....f@#@ You Lafayette court system . Learn to do your jobs right he maybe should have gotten that year for misdemeanor battery but that s it . not one person can stand to me and tell me if u we're in a fight facing 3 men and u just by yourself u wouldn't fight back that you wouldn't do everything u could to walk away to ur family ur kids That's what Brent is guilty of trying to defend himself against 3 men he wanted to go home tohisfamily worse then they did he just happened to be a better fighter and he got the best of th others . what would you do ? Stand there lay there and be stomped and beaten or would u give it everything u got and fight back ? I'd of done the same only I'm so smallid of probably shot or stabbed or picked up something to use as a weapon . if it was me or them I'd do everything I could to make sure I was going to live that I would make it hone to see my kids and husband . I Love You Brent Anthony Forever & Always .....Soul 1 baby

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