Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures LLC is offering to build Wayne County a new Criminal Justice Center on East Forest in exchange for the half-finished jail site on Gratiot near Greektown.
The proposal, released late Monday and hand-delivered to county offices, proposes to charge the county $300 million for a project Rock estimates would cost some $420 million to complete. The eight-acre site east of I-75 between East Forest and East Warren would include a new Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, a new 1,600-bed jail and a juvenile detention facility.
In exchange, Rock would gain control of the Gratiot site. It would be redeveloped into the cornerstone of a planned $1 billion mixed-use development on the eastern edge of downtown that could include construction of a 23,000-seat stadium for a Major League Soccer franchise.
In theory, both sides would get what they want. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans would get an all-new criminal justice center on the site of the current Lincoln Hall of Justice for the same price he would otherwise pay to complete a half-finished jail and make partial renovations to aging buildings nearby.
And Gilbert’s Rock would get what it calls a “gateway” to downtown. Even if Gilbert and Pistons owner Tom Gores are unable to land the MLS expansion team for Detroit — which the league conditioned on seeing “a finalized plan” for the site — Rock plans to move ahead with plans to develop commercial, office and residential space on the Gratiot site.
The offer’s timeline suggests the county accept the proposal within two weeks, by Feb. 20. It then envisions both sides using the balance of the year to refine the “scope and program” for the new justice center, including an agreement on operational savings credits. The proposed target for reaching “definitive documents” would be June of this year.
Rock’s proposal — developed with HOK, a leading architectural firm, and Southfield-based Barton Malow Co. — comes just days before the county’s Friday deadline to move ahead with efforts to restart construction on the abandoned Gratiot jail site. Only one firm, Walsh Construction Co. of Chicago, responded to the county’s request for proposals.
The county already has spent some $150 million on the half-finished jail. The county estimates the revived project would cost another $250 million to complete, with another $50 million needed to renovate the current Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.
Instead, Rock says it would develop the new site for the $300 million the county says it would need to spend on the Gratiot site, as well as an “operational savings credit” for efficiencies realized at the new site. Rock would assume all costs and financial risk associated with the new site.
Three buildings would comprise the proposed criminal justice center, according to documents filed with the county. There would be a 1,632-bed adult jail; a 160-bed juvenile detention facility; a criminal courthouse with 29 courtrooms; and offices for the county sheriff and prosecutor. Nearly 400 more beds could be added to the jail, the proposal says, at county expense of roughly $40 million.
“We have worked hard to develop and deliver to the county a proposal that, we believe, will be the best long-term outcome for the county and for the future of downtown Detroit,” Matthew Cullen, principal of Rock, said in a statement.
“We will deliver to the county a modern, consolidated criminal justice center with no risk and at the same dollar amount they believe it would cost them to complete the project on Gratiot.”
In a statement, the county acknowledged receipt of Rock’s proposal “as an alternative to completing the jail at Gratiot. We will withhold further comment on the offer until we’ve had the opportunity to review it.”
Evans, for his part, has never ruled out doing a transaction with Gilbert’s team. What he has ruled out, however, are alternatives that would increase the bill to county taxpayers who already have seen roughly $150 million squandered by Evans’ predecessor, Robert Ficano, on the stalled project.
“I don’t care what happens to that site” on Gratiot, Evans said in an interview last year. “I care what happens to the Wayne County budget and the taxpayers. Whatever the gap is is a gap” any would-be proposals “are going to have to cover.”
That sentiment is as true today as the day Evans first said it. In repeated public statements, most recently Monday on WJR’s Frank Beckmann show, the county executive hews to the financial and political realities associated with the dilapidated site.
Gilbert’s offer appears designed to acknowledge those realities and begin the process of negotiating a definitive agreement that would deliver at least another $1 billion in redevelopment on the edge of downtown.
It also shows how committed the mortgage mogul is to keeping construction from restarting on the half-finished jail on Gratiot. Rock is proposing to build a $420 million project for a fraction of the total cost — a premium it appears willing to pay to realize its vision for the gateway to downtown.