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Residents fear for juvenile justice center proposal downtown

Posted at 10:36 PM, Jul 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-23 23:36:23-04

The Douglas County Board is expected to consider using eminent domain to move forward with its plan for a new Juvenile Justice Center in the downtown area, but some residents in the area aren't pleased with the idea.

Tuesday's agenda outlines the possibility which would build the site in the area between 18th and 19th streets between Harney and Howard streets.

Documents show the county is interested in property belonging to Marcy Mason, LLC, located near 18th and Howard streets, and offered $900,000 for the multi-story building. However, the owner rejected it last May. Now many residents and business owners from the area are joining him in rejecting the proposal saying adding a second detention center within blocks of the Douglas County Jail will hurt downtown and raise property taxes. 

"For a part of the town that Omaha promotes to tourists, it doesn't make a lot of sense to put two detention centers within walking distance to your prime spot in the city," said Rebekah Pasqualetto, who lives downtown and runs a business in the area.

"Many of us down here have invested a lot of money in living here. We could easily move to West Omaha and pay a lot less for a lot more but we want to live here. So they're going to start pushing residents out, maybe not intentionally, but I do have a lot of neighbors who are talking about moving back because they don't want another detention center within talking distance to their homes," added Pasqualetto. 

County Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson told 3 News Now building downtown is a plus because it is in close proximity to the current courthouse and enables the County to build a justice campus where everyone is in the same area. She also said it created efficiencies for not only the judges and attorneys, but also the kids and their families. 

The building owner wants to preserve the historic building, but Co. Commissioner Clare Duda says this proposal would preserve the building. "This is a way to preserve an old building. I am into preserving old buildings and that's what I"m trying to do here."

Others questions why the commissioners don't explore a cheaper option.

"There's far cheaper options that we could do. This building [right here] is vacant. It's an old law office. Why not renovate it, make court rooms, and make offices for the public defenders and county attorneys? Why do we need $120 million dollars glass box in the middle of downtown?" said Tyler Wilson, a state certified corrections officer at a nearby county. 

Further plans show the commissioners would like to relocate the the juvenile court and other related services to the proposed center.

The county projects the project cost $120 million dollars.