Council members question if new justice center should wait until after election

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 23, 2015) - Council members are prepared to take their time looking at plans for a new $1.6 billion Criminal Justice Center. It is looking less likely that the deal will be approved by the end of March.

Two council members from opposite sides of the aisle have joined together to ask if a decision on the project should wait until after the election.

Republican Benjamin Hunter and Democrat Mary Moriarty Adams believe more information and time are needed to determine if the proposal is a good long-term fit for the city. They wrote a letter stating it would be irresponsible to act on the current timeline. Both councilors are asking for transparency and an appropriate vetting process.

The building itself would cost $408 million and the city would enter into a 35-year lease estimated to cost about $47 million per year. At the end of  the lease, in 2054, ownership and management of the building would revert to the city. In December, the city announced a Paris-based company called WMB Heartland Justice Partners submitted a winning bid.

"I mean this has been talked about for years so we have to look at it holistically and we’ll get that information. This is going to be on the council’s timeline and we have to make these decisions long-term and I want to make sure the efficiencies and savings are there on the back end," said Hunter.

With a deadline approaching quickly, Mayor Greg Ballard and the developer want to see the deal approved by March 31 in order to secure what they call "optimum financing."

The Rules and Public Policy Committee will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the proposed public-private agreement between the city and WMB Heartland Justice Partners. They will also take up a proposal to establish a review board for the justice complex. Council members have already hired an independent firm to review the numbers and terms of the deal.

Councilor Zach Adamson believes a new justice center is needed, but he has also continued to raise questions about the timeline.

"I always said it was unreasonable, I thought it was, there are too many unanswered questions and this deal is way too big to rush through I mean a billion and a half is a lot of money," said Adamson.

A spokesperson for Mayor Ballard released the following statement:

“In my administration, we have prided ourselves on tackling issues and projects that have been kicked down the road, both politically and financially, for decades. We have addressed above-ground infrastructure, parking meters, towing management, water and wastewater improvements, Market Square redevelopment, and so on. The Justice Center is the last in that line.  We pursued it so that future mayors would not have to address this issue, politically or financially. The City has been debating this challenge for more than 30 years, and collectively, we have worked together to create a solution. The Council, Sheriff, Courts and other stakeholders have been involved in decision making on the Justice Center project from the beginning. Now is the time to execute the plan so that a future administration will not have to deal with this continuing challenge.”