With all the hype that suddenly surrounds the justice center project, myths have been getting confused for truth. Some persistent myths should be dispelled by the following:
1) The City County Building jail is not overcrowded with dangerous felons who require its maximum-security confines. In fact, only about 60 of its 215 beds are filled with those who require maximum security. The rest who reside there are in "temporary hold." These prisoners have been moved there from the minimum-security jail in preparation for the day's round of trials. It's all about proximity to the courts. Again, most of those in the City County jail don't require its maximum security capabilities.
2) The minimum-security jail in northeast Knox County is new, beautiful, and less than half full. It will not be closing. The minimum-security prisoners would not be moved into the new maximum-security jail were it built.
3) The courts once planned for Gay Street will not be built any time in the near future. The state does not have the funds. It makes no sense to wait for the courts to reappear in the plan when we already have fine courts ready for use in the old Post Office, a public building that has been underused for many years.
4) We have no need for a new, 472-bed, maximum-security jail. The numbers don't add up. We have only about 60 dangerous felons now, and their numbers have been decreasing over the past several years. This new jail will either sit empty or Knox County will import felons from other places to stock it. This means it will be a prison.
5) The jail will NOT be good for downtown revitalization no matter what your commissioners tell you. This jail has already hurt downtown simply by taking valuable private land off the tax rolls. Developers are unlikely to build housing anywhere near the area. How is that good for downtown?
6) This jail is not a "done deal." You can keep this project from proceeding further by calling County Executive Tommy Schumpert and your commissioners. You might tell them you do not approve of the project and that you want a new review of its funding. You might insist upon a new public forum. You might note that you will not vote for them in the future if they do not heed your wishes on this. You can attend the County Commission meeting at 2 p.m. on January 24 as well. Make your opinion known.
Wasting Real Estate
It was with much anticipation that I attended the PBA's presentation of the convention center/downtown redevelopment plan last Monday. It fulfilled my hopes for an energetic, well-thought plan that is considerate of the businesses and homeowners in the district. In addition, it was refreshing to feel a more broad-based excitement about the potential of downtown Knoxvillefor too long, this idea has been championed by a relatively small group of untiring and resolute supporters.
At the same time, significant alterations to the justice center project in downtown Knoxville were brought into public focus. As a seven-year downtown homeowner, I was not thrilled with the project as initially presented and approved, but now I am flat-out vehemently opposed. Why, with so much potential for downtown, would we waste prime real estate on a jail? Sure, downtown Knoxville has been somewhat of a ghostland with only a few oases in recent years, but with the redevelopment plan and KUB's move to the old Miller Building, couldn't we give Gay Street just a little longer? Moreover, if the figures and analysis I'm now seeing are accurate, we don't even need a new justice center at all.
A much less expensive retooling of existing facilities can easily accommodate the justice center plan's stated objectives, will save taxpayer dollars for more important projects (such as improving our schools), and won't be a blemish on an area we're trying to resuscitate.
Or am I missing something?
Up in Smoke
We stand at a crossroads. What is decided on the maximum security downtown jail at the county commission meeting on Jan. 24 will impact our city for decades to come. It will impact our security, economic development, and our vision of self-worth. Chattanooga has the downtown Aquarium. Do we really want to be known as the city with the downtown prison? And let's call a spade a spade; this is not a jail they're building, it's a prison.
The future of our downtown is at stake here, not to mention millions of tax dollars. Please take a stand and demand a re-examination of this project before it's too late. That smell you smell is your tax dollars burning.