Wayne Co. to vote on land swap for new jail
Detroit — A land swap proposal that would allow Detroit billionaire Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures to build a $533 million criminal justice center in the city will go before a key vote Thursday by the Wayne County Commission.
The county commission’s Committee of the Whole voted, 9-3, Tuesday to move the land swap proposal to the full board later this week.
It’s one of the few remaining hurdles in approving Gilbert’s proposal to put the criminal center on a Detroit Department of Transportation property as long as Wayne County government acquires the land from the city.
Detroit’s City Council signed off on the land swap with the county in November.
Under the proposal, the city would give the county 11 acres of Department of Transportation property on Warren Avenue near Interstate 75 in exchange for $775,000 or the shuttered American Motor Corp. headquarters on Detroit’s west side.
Mayor Mike Duggan has said the AMC site is a source of blight and that the city will target it for redevelopment.
Commissioner Terry Marecki supported the land swap on Tuesday, saying it was a crucial piece to moving forward with Gilbert’s jail proposal.
“I’m glad we were able to work something out with the city of Detroit,” Marecki said.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans announced in March that the county had reached a deal with Gilbert after negotiating for several months.
The new criminal justice complex will include a 2,280-bed jail, sheriff and prosecutor staff and administrative offices, 25 courtrooms, five hearing rooms, and a 160-bed juvenile detention facility. It could be completed by summer 2022 with a groundbreaking this October, Evans said.
Many Detroit residents living in neighborhoods near the proposed jail site have spoken out against the plan citing environmental concerns, such as air pollution from a nearby incinerator, traffic issues and proximity to schools and homes.
Commissioner Diane Webb, who was among three commissioners to vote no on the swap Tuesday, said the county needs to consider those concerns and the risks involved with the project.
“I just think it’s a bad deal,” said Webb, adding the county should have given more consideration to the proposal from Walsh Construction to finish the half-built jail in Greektown. “There are way too many risks financially ... with public health. And once they go down this road, there is no turning back. There is no Plan B.”
Gilbert’s offer to the county increased the criminal justice complex’s price tag by more than $110 million from the $420 million pitched a year ago when Rock Ventures asked the county to foot $300 million of the bill. But the tentative agreement caps how much the county will spend at $380 million. In return, the county gets a larger jail than the 1,600-bed facility previously offered.
Rock Ventures will spend $153 million, plus any overruns. The county will use $50 million in existing IRS bonds, new bonds and general fund dollars to cover its $380 million contribution, officials said. The IRS approved use of the bonds remaining from the failed jail project in Greektown. If the cost of the project is lower, Rock and the county will share in the savings.
The county commission expects to vote on the overall deal in June.
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.
In 2011, Wayne County started building the estimated $220 million jail at the Gratiot location near the I-75 service drive.
In 2013, an estimated $151 million of the jail was built when construction was stopped because the price to finish the project jumped by $171 million more than originally planned. The cost overruns ultimately led to corruption charges against two county officials and a contractor working on the site.
For nearly five years, the “failed jail,” as Evans has called it, has sat unfinished, costing taxpayers $1.3 million a month to repay its bond debt as well as cover security and maintenance.