Friday, January 24, 2020

New downtown courthouse tower, nearby jail campus comes into focus

Planning is advancing on four options for rebuilding and/or
replacing downtown Cleveland's massive, undersized and
decaying Justice Center complex. A steering committee
overseeing the planning voted for the four options with
a new courthouse tower downtown plus a new jail
campus somewhere in Cleveland gaining unani-
mous support from the committee (Google).
One of Greater Cleveland's largest real estate development projects is coming into focus. And no, it's not just the Sherwin-Williams headquarters and research facilities. But both are what real estate professionals call "whales."

The other whale is the new 1.7-million-square-foot-plus Justice Center. And based on votes this week by a steering committee of Justice Center stakeholders on how to address the poorly built, crumbling and overcrowded jail, courthouse tower and sheriff's offices, there's going to be a new jail and probably will be a new courthouse tower.

Among nine conceptual options for addressing the inadequate Justice Center which saw its construction begin 46 year ago, only one option received unanimous support from among the 12-person committee. That vote was to build a new downtown courthouse tower and a new, low-rise jail campus probably somewhere in the city of Cleveland.

But three other alternatives also won enough support, albeit not unanimous, for advancing into more detailed study to refine programming as well as operating and construction cost estimates for comparative purposes. These are the options that will be subjected to further refinement, listed from most popular at the top to least popular:

  • New low-rise jail campus and new high-rise urban courthouse;
  • New low-rise jail campus and expand/renovate existing courthouse;
  • New low-rise jail and new mid-rise court on campus site;
  • New Jail 1 next to renovated Jail 2, expand/renovate existing courthouse.

These are the four primary structures at the existing Justice
Center campus, with north to the left (Cuyahoga County).
The existing 2.3-million-square-foot Justice Center opened in 1977 on 7 acres of land between Ontario and West 3rd streets, Lakeside and St. Clair avenues. The planning team that's studying its renovation, expansion or replacement is led by Cleveland-based Project Management Consultants LLC managed by Jeff Appelbaum.

One of the most notable findings by the Justice Center planning team is that a new, more modern and efficient jail combined with central booking and diversion/treatment programs for drug abusers could save the county about $27 million per year in operating costs.

That savings, if used to help service the issuance of construction bonds for the new 800,000-square-foot jail, could pay for 56 to 68 percent of the jail's construction costs, planners said. A new jail campus is projected to cost anywhere from $700 million to $800 million to build. The operating cost savings from a new jail could pay for $392 million to $544 million of the jail's construction costs.

A new Cuyahoga County Sherriff's Department headquarters is estimated to measure just shy of 100,000 square feet, the planning team said.

The Justice Center's 25-story, 420-foot-tall, 600,000-square-foot courthouse tower is in very poor condition. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate it, and by the time that work is done, it will still be a 50-year-old, poorly-built building, planners said. And that cost doesn't take into account expanding it for the domestic relations and housing courts plus other county court-related offices located in other buildings.

Planners said that the courthouse tower needs to measure 877,000 square feet to address overcrowding. A new courthouse could grow by roughly 200,000 square feet if the Eighth District Court of Appeals and the Cuyahoga County Probate Court are also relocated into a new courthouse tower, pending further study.
For those wondering if there is 15 acres available near down-
town Cleveland for a campus-style jail complex, the answer
is a definite "yes" as the vacant land shown in red is owned
by the Ohio Department of Transportation. The blue parcel
is owned by Cleveland Black Oxide Inc. and the narrow,
green parcel is a trench owned by the Greater Cleveland
Regional Transit Authority for its rapid transit rail lines.
If combined, that site alone would suffice for a new jail
campus beyond the edge of downtown (Google/KJP).
If a new courthouse tower were built downtown with its parking in a neighboring structure and the courthouse's floorplates averaging about 25,000 square feet (they're about 29,000 square feet currently), it could be a 35-story building.

If the appellate and probate courts were included, the courthouse tower could rise to about 43 stories tall. If less square footage per floor is planned, the tower could easily eclipse 50 stories.

Cost of a new courthouse tower wasn't provided. But based on the Carl B. Stokes Federal Courthouse Tower built in 2002 and adjusted for inflation, it could range from $400 million to $600 million, depending on the site. No site has been identified, but steering committee members said they want a new courthouse tower to stay as close to the existing Justice Center as possible.

Because the planning team was asked by the steering committee to further study renovating and expanding the existing jails and courthouse, it will add another 60 days to provide detailed cost answers.

Further study of that planning option came at the urging of committee member Brendan Sheehan, administrative judge at the Common Pleas Court. He said the other judges wanted to know the costs involved with that renovation option to compare with the new-build options.

And because all steering committee members acknowledge that the existing Jail 1, built in 1977, is completely inadequate and the Jail 2 at least needs to be renovated, the planning team hoped to begin searching for sites for a new jail campus. That will have to wait until after the refined programming and cost data is developed for the renovation option, perhaps in August.



  1. Ken, I'm a big fan of your work. Thanks for what you do. The jail location may be thorny. I don't know how inviting it would be to have a prison at the main off ramp to downtown. Where do other major cities put prisons? The edge of town? Suburbs?

  2. It may not be a good place for a prison. But that image does address a concern voiced by more than one member of the steering committee who wondered if there was any 15-acre pieces of land that could accommodate a jail campus near downtown. The answer, per that image, is a definite yes. And not only is it vacant, it's publicly owned so it could come at a cheap price. Maybe there could be a land swap with the post office which may not need as much land/facilities as they did when they built the main office in 1982 -- which is approaching 40 years ago.

    Thanks for the compliment and feedback.

  3. Interesting. Whatever they decide, we are probably looking at 5 to 10 years before a new facility is ready to open.

  4. Could be closer to the five. County officials desperately need to address life-threatening jail conditions and either rebuild/replace the courts tower because they are throwing good money after bad in trying to keep that pile of junk functional. They're facing a $170 million repair tab just in the next few years. I wouldn't be surprised to see construction start on the jail campus and courts tower in 2-3 years.