With downtown development in full swing, is it time to move the Allen County Jail?

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Should the jail be moved? Take the poll at the bottom of the story

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — Anyone who has visited downtown Fort Wayne in recent years knows it’s currently in the midst of a revitalization boom, and even more new retail, housing and business developments are in the works. This past summer, Promenade Park, one of the key components of that revitalization, opened to the public. The park, along with completed and future projects, are fulfilling the goal of city leaders to make downtown a destination place for people.

But right in the middle of all this revitalization sits the Allen County Jail, prompting some to ask whether revitalization efforts would be even more successful if the jail wasn’t there.

“The interesting thing is the talk of moving the jail comes from everybody except the Allen County Board of Commissioners,” Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters said. “We have not considered it up to this point. Right now we have a fairly good looking building that’s not generally overcrowded, police officers that surround the building as they come and go to their day to day jobs, we don’t have escaped prisoners so I guess I’m not sure what the noise is.”

The noise has been created by the location of the jail. It sits on a prime piece of real estate located between Headwaters Park and newly opened Promenade Park. Within the next year, multiple mixed-use buildings with housing, restaurants and stores will begin to rise just feet from the jail.

So how much would it cost to move the jail? The county estimates the price tag would be a minimum of $110 million.

A current look at development on Superior Street.

“Some have suggested that to pick up what we right now and move it somewhere else in the county – which could be another issue, where would we put it? – it would cost no less than $110 million,” Peters said. “Nobody has written us a $110 million check, we don’t have $110 million in the bank and I don’t know that taxpayers would be enamored with writing that check at this particular point when we do have a fully functional and functioning facility.”

Currently, the city owns several parcels of land on Superior Street, including the land directly across the jail. WANE 15 reached out to the City of Fort Wayne to see if there were possibly plans to purchase the jail.

“A possible relocation of the jail has been discussed in the past by many community leaders; such a move could alleviate jail overcrowding, as well as make way for additional riverfront and downtown development. Allen County has jurisdiction over the jail and would have the final say on any decisions related to the current and future status of the facility.”

Mary Tyndall
Public Information Officer City of Fort Wayne

However, during a press conference for the reveal of The Lofts at Headwaters Park, Mayor Tom Henry seemed to not rule out the relocation of the jail.

“We’ll see what the future holds,” would seem to indicate a move has at least been considered or talked about.

WANE 15 spoke also with Rex Barrett of Barrett and Stokely Inc., the Indianapolis-based company is currently developing two locations on Superior Street, Lofts at Headwaters and the lot near Promenade Park. The projects are located on either side of the Allen County Jail.

It’s not a plus but it’s not a deal-breaker. We are impressed with Fort Wayne and it’s extremely well-organized. Fort Wayne is the best if not the best because they know what they are doing.”

Rex Barrett
Barrett and Stokely Inc.

The current Allen County Jail was built in 1981 and additions were added and dedicated in 2004 that increased the inmate capacity. But even with the new addition, the county has faced the possibility of overcrowding – something almost every county in Indiana has faced.

The jail has been bouncing on the line of capacity for the past few years if not the last decade. But the jail is not always at or over capacity. The number of inmates fluctuates throughout the year. The Allen County Jail’s capacity is 740. Since the change in where Level 6 felons are housed in 2016, Allen County sees anywhere between 700 to 800 inmates a day.

The county has been renovating the former state juvenile correctional facility on Cook Road. The $4 million renovations will be completed this month and the facility will become the county’s work-release center. When it opens, it will house as much as 225 people convicted of Level 6 felonies. Level 6 felony is the lowest level of felony charged in Indiana. Examples of Level 6 felonies included theft, fraud, possession of a controlled substance and sexual battery, just to name a few.

The Allen County Community Corrections building is moving within the next year. Peters said that since the facility was built in the early 2000s, the staff has doubled and has outgrown the building.

With new technology, like video visitations for inmates, some say the jail could move away from the courthouse. Decades ago, jails were built near courthouses to make the transfer of inmates from jail to court for hearings quick and easy. With video conferencing, that’s no longer a necessity.

One problem, though: “No one wants a jail in their backyard so moving it to a new location could be difficult,” according to Peters.

In a worst case scenario, if more space is needed at the jail, the county could build upward. Another level would potentially increase the number of beds by 100 and only cost the county a couple of million dollars. But would that be enough space for the ever-changing population?

“The big thing we need to look at is the long-term plan,” Commissioner Peters said. “I’m not talking next year or the next five years, I’m talking about what it might look like 10 or 20 years down the road. What sort of things will we have to put in place to insecure that the jail capacity is appropriate, that the programming is appropriate and that we are doing all of the things handle the concerns of the criminal justice system.”

But what if the jail moves, 10 or 20 years from now? What would happen to the building?

Jails and penitentiary have found new life as tourist attractions in other states. Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, in eastern Tennesse, used to house hundreds of dangerous criminals. Today, the former maximum-security prison features a museum, haunted ghost tours, distillery, concert stage, and restaurant.

WANE’s sister station WATE showed off just one example of what an old jail could turn into:

In order for the jail to see a new life, though, a developer would have to take a chance on the building. Several factors can make or break a property. The location, the state of the economy, neighborhood, and market all come into play. Before purchasing a piece of land, developers weigh whether they will see a return on their investment. With multiple new buildings around the jail going up, developers would have to be creative on what they place in that location.

WANE 15 reached out to Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux, who is in charge of the facility, numerous times over the course of several months for his opinion. As of the publish date, we have not heard back.

Only time will tell what the future holds for the Allen County Jail. For now, it’s staying put.

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