Detroit — Wayne County won’t complete its unfinished jail project in Greektown, officials said Friday.
The county and Detroit business magnate Dan Gilbert are moving closer to an agreement on building a new criminal justice center in exchange for the unfinished jail site on Gratiot near Interstate 375 in the city’s Greektown district, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said Friday in a statement.
County officials in September had extended a $500,000 stipend agreement with Chicago-based Walsh Construction to keep a proposal from the firm on the table to complete the existing jail project as it sought a separate agreement with Gilbert.
The county had until Friday to make its decision, or pay Walsh the stipend.
Under a tentative agreement between the county and Gilbert’s Rock Ventures, the company would pay the $500,000 stipend to Walsh, according to the county executive.
“As we dug into the project with an actual proposal, the more we recognized it had too much inherent risk for the county at too high a price,” Evans said. “We’re negotiating a deal with Rock that caps the county’s costs and creates the best solution available to our jail problem.”
Officials for Rock Ventures praised the news Friday.
“The county’s decision not to finish the jail on the Gratiot site is a very positive step forward,” said Matt Cullen, principal of Rock Ventures, in a statement. “We remain confident that a mixed-use development on this gateway site, which will create numerous jobs and enhance all of downtown Detroit, is the best use of the land. There are still many steps in the process before this deal is complete, and we are working closely with the county every step of the way.”
The decision comes about 10 days after Detroit’s City Council approved a land swap deal with Wayne County that paves the way for Rock Ventures to build a $520 million criminal justice complex on city-owned land near I-75 and Warren.
The swap is a key piece to the proposal by Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans, to build the jail on Detroit Department of Transportation property under the condition that Wayne County acquires the land from the city.
In exchange for the complex, Rock wants to use the unfinished jail site in Greektown for a mixed-use development.
The land swap still requires approval from the 15-member Wayne County Commission and the Wayne County Land Bank Board, which owns the property for the proposed jail site. In addition, the county needs to get approval from the Internal Revenue Service to use bonds for the jail at another site.
Furthermore, the Wayne County Commission and the Wayne County Building Authority must also approve an agreement between the county and Rock Ventures to build the criminal justice center.
“We’re making progress and moving toward a deal with Rock. But there hasn’t been a simple step in this entire process, nor will there be,” Evans said. “We’ve had to vet two proposals, are working to acquire land from the city, need to settle an issue with the IRS and are negotiating a half a billion dollar development deal – it all takes time, but we’re confident we’ll get there.”
Gary Woronchak, a Dearborn Democrat and the county commission’s chairman, called Friday’s announcement good news.
“This has seemed to be the direction toward which we’ve been moving, so it’s not surprising,” he said in a statement. “Any progress toward resolving the jail situation is good news.”
In June, Gilbert submitted to Wayne County a plan to build the criminal justice complex for the county with a 2,280-bed jail that will cost at least $520 million.
In April 2016, Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores announced their desire to build a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium on the jail site as well as retail and residential units, a hotel, covered parking and plazas.
Wayne County started construction of a $220 million jail on the property in 2011 under then-County Executive Bob Ficano. The 2,000-bed project near the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice was later halted in June 2013 amid $100 million in overruns and charges of corruption.
About $151 million was spent in construction, acquisition and design of the jail, with much of the work done underground, according to officials.
Since then half-finished jail has sat unused at a cost of $1.3 million a month, county officials estimate.