Wayne Co. should make a jail deal

Sweet­ened Gil­bert pro­posal ad­dresses all of the county’s crim­i­nal jus­tice needs with one project

The Detroit News - - Front Page -

Look­ing at the num­bers, play­ing hard to get seems to have paid off for Wayne County in its bar­gain­ing over the fu­ture of the un­fin­ished jail site.

The lat­est bids were re­leased Thurs­day from Dan Gil­bert’s Rock Ven­tures and Walsh Con­struc­tion, the only build­ing firm to ex­press in­ter­est in fin­ish­ing the jail.

Both plans would give the county a new jail, for roughly the same money, but the Gil­bert of­fer adds sweet­en­ers that County Ex­ec­u­tive War­ren Evans will find hard to refuse.

Gil­bert is com­mit­ting to build a 2,280-bed jail, as well as a re­place­ment for the Frank Mur­phy Hall of Jus­tice and the cur­rent ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion cen­ter, all lo­cated off Gra­tiot north of Greek­town.

The jail would be large enough for the county to shut down its other two lock-ups in the neigh­bor­hood, and a third in Ham­tramck.

To­tal cost is $520 mil­lion, with the county obliged to cover a max­i­mum of $380 mil­lion and Rock Ven­tures con­tribut­ing $140 mil­lion.

Walsh, by con­trast, would con­struct a 2,200-bed jail and ren­o­vate Mur­phy, a 50year-old fa­cil­ity that has badly de­te­ri­o­rated, for $317 mil­lion.

The cost dif­fer­ence be­tween the two bids for the county is $63 mil­lion. But for that money Gil­bert is of­fer­ing an all new crim­i­nal jus­tice com­plex on War­ren Av­enue at I-75, a site owned by the city of Detroit.

Over time, Wayne County will have to re­place Mur­phy and the ju­ve­nile fa­cil­ity, and the cost likely will be much greater.

Rock Ven­tures’ new of­fer is $20 mil­lion richer than Gil­bert’s orig­i­nal bid, and the com­pany has also backed away from a de­mand to share fu­ture op­er­a­tional cost sav­ings from in­no­va­tions at the new jail.

Now, Gil­bert is ask­ing only to share sav­ings gen­er­ated by bring­ing the project in un­der the stated price tag, and to get the park­ing con­ces­sion for county-owned lots and struc­tures in the neigh­bor­hood.

Wayne County would be held harm­less for any con­struc­tion cost over­runs, which are al­most guar­an­teed in a pub­lic works project.

In ad­di­tion, a down­town dis­trict now pop­u­lated by dreary mu­nic­i­pal build­ings likely will get a new ma­jor league soc­cer sta­dium, hous­ing, of­fices and en­ter­tain­ment venues that will gen­er­ate tax dol­lars for both the city and the county.

The Rock Ven­tures of­fer looks like a ter­rific deal for county tax­pay­ers who were shafted when for­mer County Ex­ec­u­tive Robert Fi­cano bun­gled the orig­i­nal jail con­struc­tion, which was halted af­ter post­ing more than $100 mil­lion in added costs.

Spend­ing money to fin­ish a jail that should have been up and op­er­at­ing by now, and paid for, is a bit­ter bill for tax­pay­ers to swal­low. But it has to be done.

The Gil­bert plan rec­og­nizes the po­ten­tial of the neigh­bor­hood, and fits into the over­all re­vival of down­town Detroit. And it also al­lows the county to walk away at least with some­thing more to show for its money.

Evans and the county com­mis­sion has to vet the de­tails, of course — and care­fully. But un­less there is some­thing we’re not see­ing at the mo­ment, Wayne County should take this deal and run.

Clarence Tabb Jr. The Detroit News

It’s hard to ask tax­pay­ers to pay for a jail that should

al­ready be op­er­at­ing. But it

must be done.

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