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.

For a look at the proposed sites,
click here.

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.”•


  • 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. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  2. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  3. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  4. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  5. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well