Wayne County Commissioners reject Gilbert plan

(WXYZ) - Wayne County Commissioners are saying "no deal" to Dan Gilbert.

The Commission refused to vote Tuesday on a plan that would have allowed the county and Gilbert's Rock Ventures to explore a $50 Million deal on the controversial jail site and other properties.

The discussion at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole lasted more than two hours… and at times it was very heated.  The commission clearly doesn't trust County CEO Robert Ficano's administration, and made it clear that there was a very expensive part of the Gilbert deal that they say they just can't live with.

That means the business mogul's goal of turning jail cells into luxury condos is on hold in Wayne County.  Gilbert's Rock Ventures is offering the county $50 Million to re-develop the site of the failed jail project in downtown Detroit, along with the nearby Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, the Juvenile Detention facility and two existing jail buildings.

"Rock would sign this deal tomorrow if we could get our thing with the state put together," said Ray Byers, Executive Director of Governmental Affairs for Wayne County.

The Memo of Understanding, or MOU, that Rock Ventures and Ficano put together gave the county and Gilbert six months to do their due diligence on the properties.  The deal hinged on Wayne County being able to find the money to build the jail and courts at the State's old Mound Road Correctional Facility on Detroit's east side.

But there was a catch:  if Wayne County bailed on the deal, the taxpayers would be on the hook for up to $500,000 of the costs Gilbert would accrue from researching the deal.  If Rock Ventures walked away – the county wouldn't be paid anything.

"We do not have half a million dollars to cut out of a budget! That's a lot of money," said Commissioner Laura Cox (R-Livonia).

The possible $500,000 payment was the biggest sticking point, but some commissioners pointed to a report from their Chief Fiscal Advisor that says with all the costs of the unfinished and over-budget jail, plus years of interest on all the bonds, the whole project could ultimately cost taxpayers $1.1 Billion.

"I personally wouldn't go for it till I've seen the audit report knowing where the executive failed, the people that's building the jail failed and why they've failed," said Commissioner Ray Basham (D-Taylor).

With no support for the deal, the commissioners decided not to vote at all.
But the county has still spent $160 million on a jail that sits half built, and costs continue to rise each day as they close out the project.
"This could be the last best offer for the mess that we're in," said Commissioner Joseph Palamara (D-Wyandotte).

"It wasn't designed to reject the deal right out of the gate today.  We were just trying to get permission to move forward to see if a deal can be worked out," Deputy County CEO Jeffrey Collins told 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.

"But this is the second time the commission has given the administration a lot of pushback about this, does the administration just have no credibility with them," asked Catallo.

"I think that there are concerns regarding the genesis of this deal. That was expressed," said Collins, pointing out that the staff members spearheading the jail project now are not the same people who put the original $300 million deal for the Gratiot site together in 2010.

"It was a $500,000 gamble with the taxpayers money and I just could not support that. So I think they need to go back to the drawing board and put up a better deal," said Cox.

"If the $500,000 clause was not in the MOU, would you have considered it," asked Catallo.

"Yes, absolutely because then we were just going to do due diligence… My job is to protect the taxpayers so I had to say no on that part of it," said Cox.

A one-man grand jury in Wayne County is investigating the jail project, including the details of an audit that have been kept secret.  The FBI is also investigating.


Rock Wayne County MOU

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If you have a story for Heather Catallo please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com or call 248-827-4473.

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