Wayne Co. OKs new jail complex in Detroit

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Wayne County Commission has signed off on a $533 million proposal from businessman Dan Gilbert to build a criminal justice complex that would allow the county to shutter its aging jail and court facilities. 

The 14-1 vote Thursday cleared one of the last hurdles needed to begin construction on the project, which will be located on East Warren near Interstate 75. 

More: Claims of ‘inhumane’ conditions fuel bid for new Wayne County jail

County officials have spent the last year in negotiations with Gilbert's Rock Ventures. 

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans lauded the county commission and building authority for approving the deal, saying it was the "best value and path forward given the circumstances." 

“We desperately need these new facilities and shovels can’t get into the ground soon enough," Evans said in a statement. "Heading into summer, Wayne County is on its best financial footing in quite some time."

The proposed complex includes a 2,280-bed jail, sheriff and prosecutor staff and administrative offices, at least 25 courtrooms, and a 160-bed juvenile detention facility. It could be completed by summer 2022 with a groundbreaking this fall, officials say.

 The county will be on the hook for $380 million toward the project, while Rock Ventures has committed to $153 million, plus any cost overruns. Wayne County will use $50 million in existing IRS bonds, new bonds and general fund dollars to cover its contribution, officials say.

Part of the deal gives Rock Ventures the 15.5 acres of property where a half-built jail now stands on the edge of Greektown, a popular area of downtown. Gilbert has vowed to build a $1 billion development there, but a formal plan has not been announced. 

Demolition of that structure is expected to start in the coming weeks.

Matt Cullen, principal of Rock Ventures, told county commissioners earlier this week the site would have mixed-used development including residential and entertainment. 

Cullen said the approval of the jail deal Thursday was historic. 

 "After five years of working to solve a complex set of challenges, today’s vote is a great example of how the public and private sectors can work together to create a great outcome for taxpayers and the region," Cullen said in a statement. 

"Now we can get to work on creating a new development fitting for the gateway to Detroit. We are grateful to the county for sharing our vision and clearing the way for a project that will positively impact our community for generations to come.”

Two of the county's existing jails — Division I and Division II — are crumbling. A recent Detroit News tour of the facilities highlighted malfunctioning air conditioning systems and other structural issues.    

Commissioner Diane Webb cast the lone vote against the deal saying the county failed to go out to bid on the project, the location for the complex wasn't ideal and that the new complex includes facilities that don't need to be replaced.

For example, Webb said the existing Division III jail and the juvenile detention center are in "phenomenal shape." She said she would rather see the deteriorating Lincoln Hall of Justice be replaced, but it's not in the plan. 

"I need to be able to say that I know without a doubt that we are getting the best deal for the taxpayer dollars," Webb told The Detroit News. 

Webb, along with dozens of community members, has also expressed concern with possible environmental issues at the site on East Warren, and its proximity to schools and neighborhoods. 

The commission on Thursday passed a resolution urging Rock Ventures to implement recommendations from a traffic study conducted in May to address the impact of additional traffic in the area. 

Commissioner Jewel Ware, D-Detroit, who authored the resolution, said she will continue working to address community concerns as the projects move forward.  

"This day could not come soon enough," Ware said. "Just because someone is an inmate or prisoner locked down ... they (still) deserve to have conditions that are standard conditions."  


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Twitter: @NicquelTerry