DALLAS – A Detroit pro soccer stadium may yet supplant Wayne County's plans to complete its half-finished jail project.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said he is keeping the county's options open for a jail site after the backers behind a Major League Soccer expansion bid proposed a site swap.
Evans said Tuesday he was optimistic about the proposal submitted by Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures founder Dan Gilbert, who wants to build the soccer stadium on the site of its unfinished county jail in downtown Detroit.
County officials had said last week said that they planned to move ahead with completing the bond- financed jail at Gilbert's favored Gratiot Avenue site, and was slated to provide the design-build request for proposal to the lone bidder, Walsh Construction, on Feb. 10.
"Four days before my deadline, Rock Ventures has submitted an alternative proposal that is much better than their previous offer," said Evans. "It is unlikely this improved offer would have come without all the fiscal progress we've made in Wayne County. Working with the County Commission, we'll vet the offer thoroughly. We will take the same thoughtful, measured approach in vetting this proposal as we've done in every step in dealing with the County's fiscal crisis."
The county estimates the completion of the jail on Gratiot Avenue along with modest renovations to its Frank Murphy Hall of Justice will be $300 million. The county had planned to issue $200 million of bonds in June to finish the jail.
For the same amount, Rock Ventures is proposing to build the county a state-of-the-art criminal justice complex and a new criminal courthouse to replaces the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, which has an estimated value of $420 million. In exchange, the company is asking for the transfer of the Gratiot Avenue property and a credit for the savings a new consolidated criminal justice complex would provide.
The proposal moves the jail about 1.5 miles north from the downtown Gratiot site to East Forest Avenue, east of Interstate 75.
"We have worked hard to develop and deliver to the county a proposal that, we believe, will be the best long-term outcome for the County and for the future of downtown Detroit," said Matt Cullen, a principal at Rock Ventures. "Specifically, we will deliver to the county a modern, consolidated criminal justice center with no risk and at the same dollar amount they estimate it would cost them to complete the project on Gratiot."
The county had said that it was open to moving the jail to another location to make way for the Major League Soccer stadium promoted by Gilbert, a major player in the downtown Detroit real estate market, as long as it didn't increase the cost for Wayne County taxpayers, didn't delay the timeline for completing the project, and was submitted before Feb. 10.
The county has already spent $151 million on the project.
Rock Ventures' proposal also calls a planned $1 billion commercial development at the Gratiot Avenue site that could produce up to $2 billion in economic impact, according to an estimate by the University of Michigan Center for Sport and Policy.
The plan contemplates some combination of office, commercial, hotel and residential space with the potential MLS stadium, in conjunction with Tom Gores and Platinum Equity. Gilbert and Gores were among 12 candidates who made a formal bid Jan. 31 for one of four expansion teams MLS plans to grant.
The county exited state oversight last October. At the beginning of February the county announced that it expects a general fund operating budget surplus of $44 million.
Moody's Investors Service rates Wayne County Ba1. Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings both rate the county BB-plus.
"We've spent two years getting our fiscal house in order. This allowed us to be in position to finish the Gratiot jail," Evans said.