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Wayne County halts construction on new jail amidst massive cost overruns

The unfinished Wayne County jail project at Gratiot near Downtown Detroit.
Wayne County
via Wayne County

Wayne County will stop building a $300 million jail complex while it tries to figure out how the project got so over-budget.

The new jail was supposed to save Wayne County money by consolidating several facilities into one new, high-tech one.

But members of County Executive Robert Ficano’s administration told the Wayne County Commission Thursday the project could end up costing as much as $391 million—and they don’t know how that happened.

Ficano had originally estimated the project would cost $220 million.

An “independent committee” is now supposed to look into whether the project can be salvaged under-budget, or whether the county should walk away.

The County has already spent $110 million on the project.

“I think today is just the shot across the bow that says, this baby is really in trouble,” says County Commissioner Tim Killeen. “There’s no way the county walks out of this and [doesn’t] lose money.”

The Commission passed off oversight of the project to the Wayne County Building Authority years ago. But officials say the Commission was supposed to approve any major cost changes.

Ficano administration officials now say they’ll look into a deal that would let them take over an empty state prison in Detroit.

Commissioner Laura Cox says that option was on the table years ago—and the county passed on it.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t walking away from a viable, cheaper option,” says Cox, who opposed the new jail. “But sometimes people see a glistening, new building, and they wanted that instead.”

The state is now offering to lease the empty Mound Road facility for $1 a year.

Ficano officials also admit they’ve engaged in talks with a potential “purchaser” for the land (Quicken Loans CEO and major downtown Detroit landowner Dan Gilbert), but say there’s no deal there yet.

The new jail  is closely tied to two former Ficano aides, Turkia Mullin and Azzam Elder, who spearheaded the project. Both are now subjects of an FBI investigation, as is the project itself.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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