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Wayne County ponders offer for botched jail site

The unfinished Wayne County jail near Gratiot Ave. in Detroit.
Wayne County

Downtown Detroit real estate mogul Dan Gilbert wants to buy the site of Wayne County’s botched jail project.

Rock Ventures has offered a total of $50 million to build an entertainment district where the half-built jail and other county facilities now sit. Wayne County abandoned the jail project in August because it was hugely over-budget.

County leaders and Rock executives pitched the plan to the Wayne County Commission Wednesday. They got a skeptical reception.

Commissioner Raymond Basham says the Commission still feels stung by the jail disaster.

“There’s a whole lot of questions I have before I give you any response or any vote,” Basham said. “We need to know what happened, or why it happened, with the current jail.”

Commissioners want to see a Wayne County audit of the jail project, which has been withheld by Prosecutor Kym Worthy as part of an investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing.

In the meantime, Wayne County sued the jail project manager, AECOM, for $154 million on Wednesday.

Rock Ventures President Matt Cullen tried to reassure commissioners that the deal is a good one for taxpayers and the city.

“We’ve invested more than $1 billion in the downtown alone, [and] we have a lot more coming,” Cullen said. We have 12,000 people down here. There’s no benefit at all for us to have this not work.”

County officials want the Commission to vote next week on an “option agreement” that includes a 90-day due diligence period.

But many commissioners say they want more time to examine the deal. Among other things, they want more information about who will pay for Wayne County to build a new criminal justice complex.

The state has offered to lease part of an under-utilized former jail on Detroit’s east side to Wayne County for just $1 a year. But county officials weren’t able to answer further questions about that deal Wednesday, saying details are still in the works.

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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