Wayne County will consider both options for jail site

Louis Aguilar, and Charles E. Ramirez

Detroit — For almost four years, a half-built jail has languished on the edge of Greektown as Wayne County officials attempted to find a way to finish building the jail amid $170 million in overruns.

Now there are officially two different possible endings: either finish building the jail or embrace an offer turned in late Monday to give billionaire Dan Gilbert the land to build a $1 billion mixed-use development anchored by a 23,000-seat soccer stadium.

In exchange for the Gratiot area jail site, Gilbert’s Rock Ventures LLC would build a new Criminal Justice Center that would include a new 1,600-bed jail, a juvenile detention facility and new courtrooms. The new justice center would be built north of downtown on a eight-acre site just east of the Interstate 75 service drive between East Forest and East Warren.

Rock Ventures late Monday delivered a 34-page proposal to Wayne County aimed at convincing officials the half-built jail site is better suited for massive redevelopment.

The jail facility could be expanded to 2,000 beds, according to a 34-page proposal delivered to Wayne County officials late Monday. Rock Ventures’ proposal offers to charge the county $300 million for a project the firm estimates would cost some $420 million to complete. About $151 million has been spent so far in construction, acquisition and design of the jail, according to Wayne County officials.

Two key county officials praised Gilbert’s offer but cautioned it’s too soon tell if it will become reality. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said he is content for a while to operate on “dual tracks” as he and county officials study each proposal. Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn, also indicated support for continuing to examine both ideas.

“It’s important to not send out a false message or give the false impression that we’re setting aside the track we’ve been on,” Woronchak said, referring to finishing the half-built jail at Gratiot. “The bottom line is: What’s the best option for taxpayers?”

The county could take the next step in finish building the jail Friday by issuing a request for proposal for the construction job. Only one firm wanted the job – Chicago-based Walsh Construction. A request for proposal is essentially the official game plan on how and when Walsh would finish the jail site. Walsh is one of the country’s largest prison construction managers.

Gilbert’s plan has a timeline, starting with an answer from Wayne County by Feb. 20, according to the proposal. Evans said he is not taking Feb. 20. date as a “hard deadline.”

What’s more key is the year 2020 goal Gilbert has set for the new Criminal Justice Center to be completed. And it’s the first year a possible Detroit expansion team in Major League Soccer would be eligible to play. That team, co-owned by Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores, would play in a 23,000-seat stadium that’s part of the $1 billion overall development.

The jail project on Gratiot was halted in June 2013 when cost overruns pushed the price tag from $220 million to an estimated $391 million and resulted in charges of corruption. The complex was designed to consolidate Wayne County's criminal justice facilities downtown. Construction of the project, located on a 15.5-acre site at Gratiot near I-375 in Detroit’s Greektown district, began in 2011. The site is bounded by Gratiot, the Chrysler Service Drive, Macomb and Beaubien.

In October, an engineering consultant assessed the unfinished jail’s condition and found no structural damage to the steel, concrete and masonry work that's already been completed. Its inspection also revealed no issues of cracking or leaking joints with the installed sanitary and storm sewer lines.

Evans said Rock Venture’s offer is evidence the county continues to get its “fiscal house in order.” He added in a written statement: “Working with the County Commission, we’ll vet the offer thoroughly. We will take the same thoughtful, measured approach in vetting this proposal as we’ve done in every step in dealing with the County’s fiscal crisis.”

Commission Chair Woronchak said the 15-member body will look at Gilbert’s proposal once Evans indicates he thinks it should. He estimates choosing Gilbert’s plan could add another six months to a year for the county to have a new jail in place. “That has to be factored in, too,” Woronchak said.

“I respect and appreciate the work they’ve done on it. Right now, we’re all letting it settle in and we’ll see exactly what it means.”


Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN

Detroit News staff writers Daniel Howes and Christine Ferretti contributed to this report.