Wayne County: Right back where we started from

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - With apologies to Maxine Nightingale, isn't this where it all started?

Several years ago now the Ficano administration began its efforts to sell the idea of a new, more efficient county jail to the county commission. Its reasoning, which came from then Ficano deputies Azam Elder and Turkia Awada-Mullin, was to take all of the county's jail beds, put them in one space, close the other older and outdated facilities and save money. At that time, more than a few people asked the question "why not take over the old and vacant Mound Road correctional facility?"

Story: State offers plan to salvage Wayne County jail project

The state offered to sell it to Wayne County for exactly $1. The administration's answer was then [as it remained until today] it's an unworkable plan because a prison is not a jail. In order to convert the old facility into a new jail it would take millions of dollars and it made more sense to just build the jail you want the way you want it. In the end that reasoning prevailed and the new jail construction project got under way. It became the gateway into the City of Detroit greeting anyone coming downtown for a game or to entertain.

As the construction carried on the meter was running. The county commission approved a $220 million dollar construction price. Then it was learned that plan didn't include a few important items like furniture and security systems. So then the price tag went up to $300 million.

Then, without anyone in the Ficano administration saying so publically, the project ended up $50 million dollars by the end of 2012. Then by the spring of 2013 the project wound up coming in $91 million over budget. At that point Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano realized there was nowhere to go but stop construction.

So, for the last two months the site sat vacant while Ficano attempted to figure out an exit strategy. Local Four reported on those plans, including a preferred option of a private public partnership with one of the current jail contractors.

When we went to the county commission hearing today we expected to hear more about that plan. We also were told by several sources the Governor's office heard of that plan to and in the last couple of days they held a contentious meeting where Governor Snyder essentially told Ficano the only way out is to sell the disastrously over budget new jail construction site [$125 Million already in the ground!] and move the mess out to Mound Road Correctional Facility. It was a surprise to pretty much everyone in the room when the Governor sent his chief of staff Dennis Munchmore and his corrections chief Dan Heyns to address the commission.

They along with June Lee, Bob Ficano's chief of staff told the county commission there really aren't any workable options as the jail project would need roughly $100 million more to be completed and the county's ability to sell bonds is all but gone. There's little money left [$40 million we're told] and there is no way to get any more money and even though the taxpayers are left holding the bag on this nightmarish project the only way out is with the state's help.

So, now, Wayne County will tear up its construction contracts and the silently rusting project will continue rusting at least for sixty days, and it likely will be longer. The county will consider three proposed projects for the jail site, one is an MLS soccer stadium the other two are entertainment complexes with shopping attached. Yes, one of those is a Dan Gilbert proposal. While that goes on, the County and the State will go about the business of pulling together a plan that will turn the Mound Road prison into a jail.

Three years and $300 million later, the state will sell 46 acres of land and a vacant eyesore for one dollar. As one county commissioner put it this afternoon "this is a total disaster and what this proves is Wayne County is incapable of doing building projects."

Maxine Nightingale couldn't have said it better! The sad part of this is though: Wayne County taxpayers are the ones who will foot the bill of getting right back to where we started from.

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