FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The way Allen County Commissioner Richard Beck sees it, buying a vacant building at 1300 S. Clinton St. downtown would allow the county to consolidate the criminal justice system and county administrative offices with one building purchase.

And it would allow for the sale of four county-owned downtown buildings – two on Superior Street and two on The Landing – that developers are hungering for because of the explosive riverfront development.

His friend, Commissioner Nelson Peters, sees a $50 million price tag for a problem that “only necessitated an $8 million fix.”

And, adds Peters, what about the likely future build of the Allen County Jail, estimated to cost about $350 million, but likely necessary now that a federal judge has ordered that the county do something to alleviate jail overcrowding and inhumane conditions.

The proposal to spend $12.5 million to purchase the 193,000 square foot building at 1300 S. Clinton St., now vacant but most recently leased to Lincoln Financial, was presented Thursday at the monthly Allen County Council meeting.

Consolidation means moving some departments from the Rousseau Centre on Main Street where the Fort Wayne Police Department and other law enforcement offices would stay, and from Citizens Square where many city offices are located.

The building is currently owned by Abridge Pointe, LLC and managed by Via Developments located at 2833 E. Dupont Rd. It has an assessed value of about $6 million. Daryle Doden, owner and CEO of Ambassador Enterprises, is the primary owner of Abridge, according to Matt Hohman, CEO of Via Developments

The purchase would remove from the tax rolls the multi-story 1976, remodeled in 2018 to a contemporary, metal and concrete office building. But selling off the four downtown locations to private developers could make up for the more than $178,000 in annual tax revenue, according to public records from the Allen County Assessor’s office.

Peters says the current owner is asking for a decision this summer.

Beck argues that the county is the second largest landholder in downtown Fort Wayne and this consolidation is a strategic move for the future. The county spends 72% of its budget on law enforcement and the judicial system, compared to 51% in 1993.

The proposal was precipitated by a proposal in April 2021 to purchase a building on East Washington Street to replace the 40,000 square foot Allen County Community Corrections Day Reporting Center at the corner of Superior and Harrison streets where county offenders report for urine tests and some self improvement classes. The proposal included a building that was more than 100 years old and would more than likely cost between $11 and $12 million when renovations were completed.

“County Council asked us to think bigger and think for the future,”said Commissioner Therese Brown who is in favor of the proposal. “We were already in the process of doing the justice study, so we just expanded on that. It probably made better sense to find a facility that would allow government to operate cleaner and allow a reduction of footprint for the criminal justice system.”

Beck said all criminal justice departments must be close to the Courthouse, but the jail doesn’t need to be downtown. The vacant building is only a couple of blocks away from the courthouse.

County offices that would be moved to the South Clinton Street building include departments such as the tax assessor and county auditor housed at the Rousseau Centre and the department of health, building and planning departments, at Citizens Square.

“The justice study (prepared by Elevatus Architecture) said all components of the criminal justice system need to be near the courthouse,” Beck said. “Right now, they’re scattered around and that’s not efficient. I tend to be a bigger picture person. We’re busting at our seams. My position is let’s consolidate our footprint with one move for the administration (county) and one move for the criminal justice system.”

The other buildings downtown – day reporting center, small claims at Superior and South Calhoun streets, and the Allen County Prosecutor and Criminal Division Services on the Landing – won’t be difficult to sell.

“In a heartbeat,” Beck said.