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Wayne County makes tentative deal with Gilbert for new criminal justice center

Mar 7, 2018

Type the words “fail jail” into a simple search and Google will immediately suggest: “Detroit.” The nickname refers to the downtown site at Gratiot and St. Antoine, where construction of what was supposed to be a new county jail began in 2011 but has been on pause since 2013.

That is, until Dan Gilbert takes over.

On Wednesday, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans announced a tentative deal with Gilbert’s Rock Ventures to transform the Gratiot site into a billion-dollar commercial development. 

Pending approval of the county commission and building authority, Gilbert’s company will construct a brand new $533-million, four-building “criminal justice center” on I-75 Service Drive and Warren Avenue.

The center will include a new criminal courthouse, sheriff and prosecutor offices, administrative offices and juvenile detention facility in addition to a 2,280-bed jail. In return, the county will invest $380 million into the site while Rock Ventures vows to cover the remaining costs and any overruns. Rock will operate and collect $30 million in parking revenues from sites around the new center, at which point further profits and operations will go to Wayne County.

An aerial rendering of the proposed new criminal justice complex.
Credit Image Courtesy of HOK

The county plans to use new and existing bonds and general fund dollars to cover its share of the cost of the new center, and if the project comes in under budget, Rock and the county will share the savings. In return, the county will “lease” Rock its existing jails, juvenile detention facility and Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Greektown for $1 per year until the new center is projected for completion in 2022.  

As for the Gratiot site, the county will sell the property currently home to the unfinished jail to Rock for $21.3 million. Rock plans to invest $250 million into the property for mixed-use commercial development.

Gilbert initially planned to turn the failed prison into a 23,000-seat soccer stadium with business magnate Tom Gores for Detroit’s potential Major League Soccer expansion team. But the MLS expansion team announced in early November it plans to make use of the 64,500-seat Ford Field should it receive a bid. So Gilbert is moving ahead with plans to build a mixed-use development in place of the former jail site construction.

Rock also plans to gift $500,000 to Wayne County parks and $250,000 to career and technical training for people who have been previously incarcerated.

In a statement Wednesday, Gilbert praised private and public collaboration for the deal.

“This agreement is an outstanding example of Detroit 2.0, where the public and private sectors partner together in a smart, cooperative and optimistic manner to find and implement the best outcome possible,” Gilbert said.

Wayne County spokesman James Martinez said Rock’s proposal was the best solution to the county’s woes.

“We’ve got to get it right for the people of Wayne County,” he said. “They’ve already dumped $150 million into the stalled jail project at Gratiot under the previous administration, and we think we’ve got the best solution with the cards that we were dealt.”

The history of “fail jail” is long, complex, and shaped by county financial woes and complex land swap deals beginning in 2010, when the county got about 200 million in IRS bonds to finance a portion of the jail project at the Gratiot space. Construction was put on pause in June 2013 after racking up $100 million in overruns and charges of corruption.

Now, with a deal in the works and a tentative timeline in place, the county will resume its effort to build new criminal justice facilities.

“The visitors, inmates, employees all deserve better facilities and more efficient facilities, and that’s the direction we’re headed,” Martinez said.

To learn more about the detailed history of the "fail jail," click through the timeline below: