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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Indy’s proposed criminal justice center isn’t ready for prime time

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Every major public works project in Indianapolis – from Market Square Arena, to the domed stadium, Convention Center, the Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium, even the City-County Building and the facilities built for the 1982 National Sports Festival and 1987 Pan Am Games were all built by governmental entities or state-run universities.

Never did a private company propose, design, fund, construct and/or operate a public facility for use by Indianapolis government.

Now, breaking the tradition, the administration of Mayor Greg Ballard is openly soliciting private sector proposals to erect and operate a huge new public facility – the proposed Marion County criminal justice center.

This multi-programmed hydra of a facility would combine correction facilities (Marion County Adult Jail and Juvenile Corrections Center) – courts (criminal and juvenile) – court infrastructure – (offices for the prosecutor, sheriff, county clerk, probation, community corrections, maybe even the coroner and the crime labs).

Mayor Ballard, Sheriff John Layton and top officials of the Marion County courts say this is the greatest idea since sliced bread.

Appearing on our WTLC-AM (1310) “Afternoons with Amos” program, Sheriff Layton was as excited as a kid expecting a big present from Santa. Layton says building a new state-of-the-art county jail, with the latest electronic systems and protections, would allow him to reduce jail staff and save money.

Mayor Ballard’s Communications Director Marc Lotter said the justice center is something Democratic and Republican city/county officials have talked about for years. Lotter bragged that allowing the private sector to fund, build and operate the facility, with the city/county just paying rent, would allow the facility to be built and operated without tax increases.

You know when something sounds too good to be true, that should be the public’s first warning to get your guard up. Despite the sheriff and the mayor’s minions’ blandishments, I’ve got serious problems with this scheme!

The first major concern I have is that none of the proponents of this scheme have produced detailed financial analysis and data on the exact costs and expenses of this project.

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.

Another rationale for building the justice center is that it would allow other city/county offices located outside the City-County Building to move back in, at cheaper rent. That is true.

But that would be an economic disaster for the commercial office market downtown.

Unlike downtown rental housing, which is red hot, downtown office space is soft, with 19.9 percent of office space downtown vacant, according to the third quarter 2013 report by Cassidy Turley Realtors. That high office space vacancy rate keeps rents low and rent increases minimal.

But because this justice center project would be just for government agencies, it wouldn’t be subject to competitive pressures of the marketplace. That would cause the rents the private developer charges to be higher than what city/county agencies are currently paying.

Finally, this new justice center won’t be downtown. Those out to rid downtown of undesirables (i.e. poor Blacks, whites and Hispanics) want to put the complex at the old airport. Others want it far from Ballard’s glittery, only for the upscale bourgeoisie, downtown.

This project is way unready for prime time. So why is it being put on the fast track?

What I’m hearing

in the streets

Thirty-one years ago, in 1982, the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township broke the color barrier in Indianapolis education when Dr. Percy Clark became that district’s and Indy’s first African-American school superintendent. A position Clark held for 13 years.

Last week, Lawrence Township Schools hired another African-American to lead the 14,565 student district, choosing Dr. Shawn Smith, who’d been assistant superintendent for secondary education in Pike Township Schools.

Clark was the lone African-American school superintendent in Indy until Indianapolis Public Schools hired Dr. Shirl Gilbert as its first Black superintendent in 1991.

Now, with Smith’s hiring, five Indianapolis school districts – IPS, Lawrence, Pike, Washington and Warren Townships – are headed by African-Americans. In fact Marion County has more minority school superintendents than any Indiana county.

* * * * *

As Mayor Greg Ballard sat down with the city’s TV stations, the Indianapolis Star and probably WIBC -FM (93.1) for year-end interviews, one major media was excluded from these traditional media chats – Indianapolis African-American media.

Last week on our “Afternoons with Amos” program, I asked Marc Lotter if Mayor Ballard would be doing a year-end interview with the Indianapolis Recorder. Lotter’s response, verbatim, was, “Ahh I’ve actually had some calls that I’ve made and tried to put in with the, with the folks at the Recorder. I’ve not had any calls returned yet. So I’m going to continue to see if I can sit down and arrange something, but we’ll definitely have that on the way. We’ll see what we can do.”

The Recorder tells me that they’ve received no voice mails, emails, snail mails or even carrier pigeon mail from Lotter or his staff regarding a mayoral interview.

It’s literally been years since Mayor Ballard has answered questions from the fine journalists at this newspaper. Mayor Ballard’s refusal to be interviewed by the oldest African-American newspaper in this city, state; and third oldest in the nation is approaching the longest stretch any Indianapolis mayor has refused to be interviewed by Indianapolis’ Black newspapers.

You can’t be the self proclaimed greatest mayor for Blacks in Indianapolis history, Mayor Ballard, and continue to show open contempt and disrespect to the Black press.

See ‘ya next week!

You can email comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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