Wayne Co. to assess jail structure, seek builder

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Wayne County has hired a company to evaluate the condition of its unfinished jail in downtown Detroit, officials said.

Officials also said the county soon will begin vetting contractors to complete the controversial jail and plan to solicit proposals for the project by January.

“Gratiot remains the most cost- and time-effective option for the jail and these steps continue our progress in moving toward completion of the jail on Gratiot,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said in a statement Wednesday. “We believe the site is structurally sound, but confirming this belief is an essential part of the process to complete the jail.”

Evans said the county has tapped Mannik & Smith Group Inc. to conduct a complete structural assessment of the jail site’s condition. The site is located on Gratiot Avenue near Interstate 375.

Mannik & Smith will earn no more than $43,604 under the contract, which expires in December, said Wayne County spokesman Ryan Bridges.

The news comes about two months after the county hired Columbia, S.C.-based Carter Goble Associates LLC to serve as its representative on the project to complete construction of the jail. The company was given a $3.9 million, three-year contract.

He said Mannik & Smith’s evaluation is expected to be finished by late November. The assessment of the site will be the first performed by the county since work on project was halted in June 2013.

Construction on the $220 million project began 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 after $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.

County officials estimate it costs about $1.3 million a month to have the half-finished jail sitting unused in Greektown. The proposed development site is bounded by Gratiot, Chrysler Service Drive, Macomb and Beaubien.

In April, Detroit business giant and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores announced their desire to build a Major League Soccer stadium on the jail site.

On Wednesday, Matt Cullen, principal of Rock Ventures, the company that manages Gilbert’s portfolio of companies, investments and real estate purchases, said they are still committed to those plans.

“The current jail site on Gratiot Avenue sits right in the middle of some of the city’s best venues like Ford Field and Greektown and serves as the ‘front door’ to the city,” Cullen said in a statement. “We believe the right development for that site is something that enhances the city and fuels the continued revitalization of Detroit.

“We remain committed to exploring an exciting and distinct large-scale development that will bring jobs, an increased tax base and substantial economic activity to our burgeoning urban core. And as such, we will continue working side-by-side with Wayne County throughout this process to ensure maximum positive benefit for the community.”

Evans has maintained finishing the jail on its existing site is the least expensive option for the county’s taxpayers.

Also Wednesday, he said the county last Friday issued a request for qualifications from potential contractors with the goal of issuing a design-build request for proposals no later than January.

“We need to be able to recruit the best possible design-build contractors to complete this jail and do not want to send any mixed messages to contractors,” he said. “We intend to complete the jail on Gratiot.”