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Council lets $1.8B justice center plan die before deadline

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 11, 2015) -- City-county councillors opted not to revive the mayor's plan to build a massive criminal justice center before a deadline later this month.

The $1.75 billion center would replace aging, crumbling and sometimes dangerous infrastructure inside the existing Marion County Jail and City-County Building. Mayor Greg Ballard's office proposed the deal with WMB Heartland Justice Partners, to last over 35 years.

Councillors on both sides of the aisle, however, questioned the overall cost to taxpayers and said the mayor's office was slow to provide solid answers.

A meeting Monday marked the final chance to revive the plan before a late May deadline for funding. Republicans needed 15 votes to put the proposal back on the agenda but failed to do so, saying they did not believe the support was there.

"It’s clear that something needs to be done, we’re just at a respectable disagreement," Republican councillor Ben Hunter said.

The decision was a relief for opponents to the project, including Rena Allen and the group Indy CAN, who showed up in force at the meeting.

"I think it’s a win-win situation across the board. ... It’s not that we’re against the criminal justice center, but we want them to create a (comprehensive) plan," Allen said.

For Republican councillor Jeff Miller and union members who supported the proposal, though, it was a disappointing decision.

"We’ve been talking about it for 20 some years, so how much longer will we wait? That’s the biggest fear," Miller said.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Adam Collins told FOX59 the city could still try to work out another deal with WMB Heartland, but prices for construction could rise.

Collins said he would work on a possible compromise in the coming weeks.

"They’ve said this project’s not affordable, they’ve said the scope’s wrong, but they haven’t offered any alternatives. We think we’ve provided something that’s very clear cut and defined and that they should take the next few weeks ... and provide a response back," Collins said.