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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. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

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  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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