DETROIT (WXYZ) - They asked for 6 months to sort out the massive mess of Wayne County’s failed jail project. That six month due diligence period for Rock Ventures ended today.
Now the clock is ticking, and county officials still don’t have answers to a lot of questions.
The half-built jail still sits as Wayne County’s most expensive eyesore in downtown Detroit. Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano put the brakes on the jail construction last year after learning it was expected to cost $91 million more than the original $300 million price tag.
Last fall, Governor Rick Snyder and Rock Ventures’ developer Dan Gilbert entered the fray, urging the County to move their prisoners to the state’s old Mound Road Correctional Facility on Detroit’s east side. Gilbert is offering the county $50 million for the Gratiot jail site and four other nearby properties, but the deal all hinges on whether a new courthouse can also be built at Mound.
If Wayne County can’t move the criminal court out to Mound to be adjacent to a jail, it will cost too much to transport prisoners back downtown for daily court hearings.
“We’ve all spent a ton of time – years -- on this project now. I’m a little bit disgusted with the lack of progress, in my opinion,” said Wayne County Building Authority Board Member Jim Saros.
On Wednesday morning, members of the Wayne County Building Authority told Ficano’s Chief of Staff, June Lee, that they’re concerned the same questions they were asking months ago have yet to be answered. Especially this question: is that state going to do more than offer up a mostly empty building?
“It really comes down to a cash flow issue and a policy decision as to which way the County can go. A lot of this is tied in to the willingness and availability of the state to provide resources and to provide help,” said Lee.
Lee says they still have no firm commitment from the State of Michigan about backing bonds to help the county get a better deal when it comes to financing a new courthouse.
“The state has expended an extraordinary amount of capital, both political and monetary on the grand bargain. I think that the state has a very large issue to deal with in terms of the roads,” said Lee. “There are a lot of factors that go into how and if the state will help.”
Last week, Ficano’s team presented their due diligence findings to the Wayne County Commission. Early numbers show, it would cost more than $533 million to move everything – jail, court, sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices -- out to the Mound Road site.
Another question still not answered: If the county sells Gilbert the downtown properties, will the city cut Wayne County in on the tax revenues?
Also, can the current jail bonds that paid for the construction so far even be used to renovate the Mound Road prison?
No one seems to have the answers yet.
And don’t forget, most of the stakeholders who have to come to table are busy with something else:
“It’s an election year, so the commission has to be careful, the executive has to be careful, the governor has to be careful,” said Saros. “The state’s really been very fair, but now okay – what exactly are you going to do? If it’s only we’re going to give you the land, don’t waste your time with anything else. Then you know what you’re dealing with.”
Even though the six month due diligence period ends today, county officials say they hope to know more from the state by July third.
Officials from Ficano’s administration say they are trying to take a holistic approach by providing the Commission and the Building Authority with all of the facts over the next three to four weeks; then a decision will be made as soon as possible.