Dan Gilbert in talks with Wayne Co. over purchase of unfinished & over-budget jail site in Detroit

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Could the site of the controversial Wayne County Jail project become part of a downtown entertainment destination?

7 Action News has learned that Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert is eyeing the property and the cash-strapped county may move it's inmates to another location.

This jail project has been controversial from the start – it's over budget and it's not going to be big enough to close all of the old county jails.

With $300 million dollars in bonds approved for the new Wayne County Jail – the taxpayers are on the hook for a project that has been plagued with controversy from the start.  But is construction about to stop?

7 Action News has learned that Dan Gilbert is entering into a letter of intent to explore the possibility of developing the current site of the new jail – or to help facilitate someone else buying the property.

"There's no price [in the letter], and it leaves very wide open the possibility that their might be a different or better buyer.  But if we can be part of and encourage the process to go forward and encourage the discussion to go forward, then we think that's great," said Rock Ventures President and CEO Matt Cullen.  "We have been exchanging kind of a draft with them, so we will have a written communication with them today, kind of expressing our support, outlining a cadence of due diligence that we would like go through and recognizing that they're going to be doing the same thing."

Cullen says they don't have a specific use for the property but would like to get people talking about the idea of moving all of the jail facilities – and perhaps even the downtown courts - to the old Mound Road Correctional Facility on Detroit's east side.  It used to be a state prison.  With the new jail site in the shadow of Greektown Casino – Cullen says an entertainment zone could change the face of downtown.

"From an urban planning standpoint, the idea of a trying to create a big district and having people be able to walk from the stadiums to the theater district to a new recreational entertainment district, up to the Greektown district -- can be compelling," said Cullen.

Wayne County has already spent $100 million on the new jail. 

"We're not sure what the budget projection is at this point – it has challenges, yes. We're not sure that the budget's going to look like," Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano told 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo on Monday.

A spokeswoman for Ficano says they are in discussions with the state to lease the Mound facility for $1 a year – but they would still have to spend money on renovations there as well.

"At this point it's premature to say anything and we're just proceeding with the project," said Ficano.

But a big question remains:  The county paid $14 million for the jail site, they're about $100 million into construction, is there really a buyer out there that can make the county whole?

Some county commissioners are already slamming Ficano for this deal.  Laura Cox released a statement today saying the county should have used the Mound Road facility from the start, calling Ficano's actions "unforgiveable."

Her complete statement reads as follows:

The revelation that Wayne County plans to abandon construction of the new jail is prima facie evidence that Executive Bob Ficano has taken waste and mismanagement to a level heretofore unknown in the state of Michigan.

The plan to build a new jail facility was both unnecessary and ill-conceived from inception. That's why I cast a "no" vote in the hope that it would prevent taxpayers from having to pay for what appears to be a $100 million boondoggle. The decision to house pre-adjudicated county inmates in one of the vacated state prison facilities should have been the first, not the last option.

The action of Mr. Ficano has placed Wayne County at the precipice of a financial abyss from which it will be difficult -- if not impossible -- to retreat.

At best he is guilty of extremely bad judgment – at worse, misfeasance of the highest order. County taxpayers should deem both unforgivable.

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