Skeptics question Justice Center project price tag

Proposed Justice Center development plans (WISH-TV)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Mayor Greg Ballard hopes he can get the votes he needs for a massive project near downtown. He thinks he can get them, if he doesn’t have the support, already.

But there is caution about the project “because,” Ballard said, “we know it’s a huge project, potentially over half a billion dollars.”

He wants a new Justice Center on some land at what used to be the General Motors Stamping Plant west of downtown. The complex would consolidate the Marion county courts, the County Jail and other offices into one building. Right now, they scattered in several buildings around downtown.

Tuesday, Ballard told 24-Hour News 8, at one time, everyone agreed on the need.

“We had everybody sign a document. The council president, minority leader, the prosecutor, sheriff, courts — everybody signed the document — saying yes we need this. It has to be done. We’ve got that piece of paper.”

Ballard anticipates a public-private partnership for the project. he said, twice, Indianapolis has said it would go ahead with the construction.

Lately, though, skeptics questioned whether it can be done for the price Ballard’s team anticipates.

Tuesday night, Bart Brown, the council’s Chief Financial Officer, said there are still “a lot of questions on some of the savings and revenues.” He also said it “has been very difficult to confirm any numbers because they continue to change on us.”

Brown doesn’t believe that savings will fund the project.

“It was claimed that the savings from this project and the new revenue from this project are more than enough to fund it. We’re going to see that’s not the case,” Brown told a council committee.

Ballard still believes less money can be spent with a safe system.

“They all understand it right now. They know that we can spend this amount of money for an inefficient, unsafe system or we can spend less money on an efficient and safe system,” Ballard said.

He said he is also concerned about the city’s image, and future developments, if the council opts not to move ahead with the partnership, now.

“Who’s going to come back to us on any sort of public-private partnership if, twice, we have said: we’re good here. Who’s going to partner with us in the future?”  Ballard said.

The Marion County Justice Complex Board is expected to vote on Wednesday. The full council is expected to vote later this month.

Former federal prosecutor Joe Hogsett released a statement and applauds the effort of Ballard.

“As a former federal prosecutor, I wholeheartedly believe Indianapolis needs a new jail to replace the inefficient facilities we have today. But the very real prospect that the city will not have enough money to make annual payments to the project’s private developer – at least in the early years of the decades-long deal – is troubling. And under no circumstances could I support a public project that puts Indianapolis taxpayers in jeopardy of experiencing a shortfall to pay for it.”

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