City faces tight deadline for new justice center

Sketch of proposed new justice center
The city is on a tight deadline to get the deal sealed on the new criminal justice center. The complex - housing jails, courts and offices - is proposed for the site of the old GM stamping plant, just west of downtown.

Mayor Ballard has chosen WMB Heartland Justice Center to build, operate and maintain the complex. Construction costs are estimated at $408 million with annual operating costs $46.8 million a year over 35 years.

With the old plant almost entirely gone and cleared of debris, several nearby residents are asking what's next? Is the justice center still a go and if so, when?

Bree Scott, who grew up in the neighborhood, said, "We are wondering, but really haven't heard anything."

Jackie Lively, another lifelong resident, echoed that, saying, "It's kind of been on hold. There's not a lot of information as to when it's starting or when it will be finished."

While mayoral spokesperson Jen Pittman said plans are moving forward, there are still many approvals required amid an increasingly tight deadline.

"The deal has an expiration date, so to speak," Pittman said. "May 19 is the hard deadline and in front of that, lots has to take place. We have to have room to achieve financial and commercial closure."

She said that takes 30 days, meaning the deal must be approved by a new council committee (still to be appointed) and the full council by mid-April at the latest. If not, the project team can re-open negotiations or even walk away, according to Pittman.

While council leaders said everything is on track, residents are getting a bit antsy. They think the justice center will help their neighborhood.

"The way it's been looking the last three years, it's worse and worse," Melissa Grider said. "So...I'm ready for the justice center. Hopefully it will work out."

Lively agreed, "It's going to bring up property values tremendously because people are going to want to buy property in the area and it will be safer because of more of a police presence and more traffic...I think the City will pay more attention to it than it has been."

That's if the council agrees that the old stamping plant is the best place for it and that the mayor's office has negotiated the best deal for taxpayers.

Tuesday, the mayor's office posted the proposed contract in full. You can see it by clicking here.