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City caps lease at annual $50 million for new criminal justice center

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 24, 2014)-- Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard expects his successor to pay $50 million a year, or less, to lease a new criminal justice center on the southwest side of downtown.

The plans of three international developers which intend to combine forces with several sub-contractors and build the estimated $500 million center have been received and forwarded to stakeholders who have a month to pick a finalist.

Currently the county spends approximately $50 million annually in various lease, contract and maintenance costs related to jail system and the city told the proposed developers it intends to maintain that level of spending.

"If the bidders can provide it for less than $500 million and they can operate and maintain it more efficiently than we could their number will come back below $50 million a year," said Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Adam Collins.  "That's a ceiling. That's not a floor.

"We're spending $50 million today on these facilities. It's very unlikely with the state that our current facilities are in that we would be spending $50 million a year in 2050."

The proposal calls for the developer to secure construction loans based on future guaranteed income from the city for 35 years. In 2053, the city would receive the keys to the complex.

"The city pays and fixes its costs for construction financing and operation and maintenance throughout the 35 year period," said Collins. "You have to look at all of those factors and what we pay for them today which is why the city established the $50 million as the benchmark."

A new center would feature beds for 3000 inmates and another 960 for Community Corrections offenders. The court side of the complex would have ten hearing rooms and 27 courtrooms. The Marion County Sheriff would also relocate to the facility with the Marion County Prosecutor and Public Defender considered for future relocation.

The Marion County Forensic Services Agency and juvenile justice facilities would not be relocated.

Parts of the current courts and jail system are 50 years old, outdated and overcrowded.

Democrats who control the City County Council and are expected to approve the plan in the spring balk at the overall cost of the project and the reliability of the winning developer consortium

"We're giving them a credit card to use our bond credit build this facility with our credit and then we're going to lease it back from them for 35 years. Its going to cost the city in excess of $1.8 to $2 billion in 35 years," said Councilman Frank Mascari. "They said we're not into the business of building buildings but I said we built Eskanazi Hospital.That was $750 million. We can build a hospital. We can build a jail and complex like this.

"We're going to have somebody in Australia or Canada or France owning this or running this show and I'm a firm believer in an American product and we can build this thing ourselves and run it ourselves."

Mascari serves on the council's Regional Operations Center Investigating Committee which is still trying to unravel the deal that delivered the city a sub-par emergency operations center at the former Eastgate Consumer Mall in 2012.

That facility was riddled with workmanship and fire safety problems that forced its evacuation in 2013 for several months, a questionable lease and unfinished facades and landscaping that leaving it looking like the Green Zone in Baghdad.

The committee has fought with the administration of Mayor Greg Ballard for a year to receive crucial documents and access to decision makers regarding the ROC lease.

"I think it's a thousand times the ROC," said Mascari. "The whole situation is. Absolutely. The ROC was a disaster from the git go. We're hooked into a long-term lease there and we can't get out of. This is going to be $50 million a year versus $57,000 a month at the ROC. This is huge."

Stakeholders, the agencies that will be moving into the criminal justice center, are reviewing the three final proposals. The final proposal will be chosen December 23, forwarded on to the council for approval in the spring followed by groundbreaking in the fall and opening in the second half of 2018.