Mayor: THPD to finally get new building

Tribune-Star/Jim WillisHQ: The police department’s move in 2004 into a former bank complex was not intended to be permanent. Parts of the facility are believed to be 100 years old and officials have said its deterioration is one reason to consider its replacement. The city initially rented the building but purchased it and adjoining land in 2011 for $100,000.

It’s been on Mayor Duke Bennett’s to-do list since shortly after taking office in 2008 and this may finally be the year work begins on a new Terre Haute Police Department building.

Redevelopment Director Steve Witt gave departmental commissioners a heads-up last week that a financing plan for the project will soon come before them. Witt said Wednesday he expects the mayor, or a representative, to make a presentation “in the next month or two.”

During a May 23 interview with the Tribune-Star on a variety of topics, Bennett said the city’s bond counsel with the Ice Miller law firm was reviewing available options.

“My goal is to start construction by the end of this … season,” he said, “and I think we’re going to be able to get there.”

Bennett said early this week he had no further update. He later provided information on financing for the estimated $10 million, 30-thousand-square-foot project after his two opponents in the Nov. 5 election questioned whether the city can afford the project.

Bennett said funding will come from property taxes in the downtown tax increment financing district, “which means there is no tax increase required and the annual payments will have no impact on any general city operating budgets.”

Democratic mayoral candidate and City Councilman Karrum Nasser said, “There’s no question that we need to get those guys a better facility, not only because they work there every single day, but (because) the community is not portraying a good image with the current building.”

Nasser called it “heartbreaking” that the police headquarters has yet to be replaced but said, “We have a lot of projects that are coming our way, and I know Redevelopment has given a lot of backing to (an affordable housing project at the former downtown) YMCA and the convention center. I’m just curious where the financial piece is going to come from. 

“Unfortunately, the mayor hasn’t kept the City Council in the loop on that.”

Independent mayoral candidate Pat Goodwin said the existing building “is totally unacceptable and has been for a number of years. They need to be moved out of that building as soon as possible, but I don’t believe the city has the money to build a new building right now.”

Citing $300,000 paid annually in interest for short-term borrowing, Goodwin said city officials “don’t have any business taking out a big loan to build a new building. … I’d like to see them look for a different short-term solution until the city is in a better financial position to be able to construct something.”

Bennett and Witt said the financing arrangement will not affect funding of the new Terre Haute Convention Center or other projects in the district, which was extended several years ago to include the police department site at 1211 Wabash Ave.

Revenue from a new public safety income tax approved last year by the Vigo County Council and the local economic development tax is available as backup financing, if needed, Bennett said.

“Our overall financial condition has improved dramatically. We are in the best position since the original design work started a few years ago to move this project forward,” he said, adding he would release more details soon.

The police department’s move in 2004 into a former bank complex was not intended to be permanent. Parts of the facility are believed to be 100 years old and officials have said its deterioration is one reason to consider its replacement. The city initially rented the building but purchased it and adjoining land in 2011 for $100,000.

Those who protect and serve came close to getting a new home in 2015 when a design was commissioned and financing approved by the City Council and Redevelopment Commission. 

However, the city faced a significant budget deficit at the time and the project did not proceed. Bids then were between $6.5 million and $7.2 million.

Nasser and Goodwin support sharing some costs with Vigo County by housing city police in the same building as a new sheriff’s office. They stress they are not proposing combined operations.

However, the city has now invested about $1 million in the current site, counting purchase cost, design and utility relocation, Bennett said.

“Constructing the new police station at the existing city-owned site will ensure we don’t lose any of our significant investment so far, and the central location will best serve the citizens of Terre Haute,” he said.

Bennett maintains no savings would result by housing city police in a new jail and sheriff’s office south and west of Honey Creek Mall because that building would need to be expanded and it would not be as efficient as the current THPD location.

Police Chief Shawn Keen said, “The last thing you do is move the police department to the outskirts of the city.”

The current location is at the center of all of the department’s patrol districts, he said, and officers have to go the department at least once per shift to tag evidence or for other purposes. 

“The cost would be enormous in the amount of time wasted,” he said.

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dave.taylor@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.

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