Wayne Co. vetting proposal to finish jail construction

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County is evaluating a proposal from a construction management company to complete the unfinished jail at Gratiot near Interstate 375 in Greektown.

The proposal comes from a design-build team led by Chicago-based Walsh Construction and is in response to the county’s request for qualifications, officials said Thursday. Walsh is one of the country’s largest correctional facility construction managers and has an office in Detroit.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said the evaluation is a “positive next step toward completion of the jail.”

“This has the potential to expedite the process, and that’s good news,” Evans said in a statement. “Walsh is a renowned firm with expertise in building correctional facilities. We will evaluate their response to determine whether the team they’ve assembled is qualified to complete the jail at Gratiot.”

A favorable evaluation of Walsh’s proposal could allow negotiations directly with the firm to commence and allow the county to move in advance of the timeline it contemplated, officials said.

The county expected to begin negotiations with a construction company next spring or summer. Now, negotiations with Walsh could come as early as January, officials said, but they cannot begin until the county finishes its evaluation of Walsh’s proposal.

“The goal has always been to get a good offer from a quality design-build team to complete the jail,” Evans said. “We’re now in a better position to do that.”

Any contract with Walsh would require the approval of both the Wayne County Commission and the Wayne County Building Authority.

“We welcome this vetting process of Walsh; it’s a good opportunity to move the jail project forward,” said County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn, in a statement. “We’re obviously going to do our due diligence and scrutinize carefully Walsh’s response. This, however, is a pragmatic step to position the county to do what’s best for its taxpayers.”

The evaluation of Walsh’s proposal comes just about two weeks after an evaluation of the condition of unfinished jail showed the structure is sound and construction to complete it can start next year.

Construction on the $220 million jail 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 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.

The half-finished jail has sat unused at a cost of $1.3 million a month, county officials estimate. The site is bounded by Gratiot, the Chrysler Service Drive, Macomb and Beaubien.

In April, Detroit business giant Dan 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.

Gilbert has said he is hopeful about negotiating a deal with the county to put a soccer arena on the site.

Meanwhile, Evans maintains the best option for the county is to finish the jail at its existing location.

“The Gratiot site remains the best option for Wayne County taxpayers,” Evans said. “The prudent thing is to move forward and get this done.”