Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures proposes a land-for-jailhouse construction exchange

He would take over a downtown Detroit site, where he wants to build a soccer stadium, and build a new jail and courthouse about 1.5 miles away.

February 08, 2017 |

A rendering of the criminal justice facility that Rock Ventures is offering to build in Detroit's Wayne County in exchange for a coveted parcel of land on which the Rock Ventures would build a complex that includes a Major League Soccer stadium, a hotel, offices and apartments. Image: Rock Ventures LLC

Rock Ventures LLC, the investment firm through which Quicken Loans’ founder Dan Gilbert has been revitalizing Detroit’s business and real estate landscape, wants to develop a $1 billion commercial project that would include a 23,000-seat Major League soccer stadium in downtown Detroit, in partnership with Platinum Equity’s Tom Gores, who owns the Detroit Pistons NBA franchise.

To get the land it covets for this project, Rock Ventures wants take ownership of the Wayne County jail site on Gratiot Avenue. In exchange for that transfer, Rock Ventures has offered to spend $120 million of its own money to construct a new $420 million consolidated criminal justice center on a separate site.

Rock Ventures is also asking the county for an “operational savings credit” to cover the projected efficiencies realized on the new site, for which the investment firm would assume all costs and financial risks.

MLive.com reports that the proposed site for this criminal justice center would be located about 1.5 miles from the existing jail site, at East Forest Avenue east of Interstate 75. The proposed complex would include a 1,632-bed adult facility and a 160-bed juvenile detention center, and a new criminal courthouse with 29 courtrooms. Nearly 400 beds could be added to the jail if the county kicks in another $40 million.

According to the Detroit News, Rock Ventures’ submitted its proposal—developed with AEC firms HOK and Barton Malow—just days before the county’s Feb. 10 deadline to move ahead with efforts to restart construction on the abandoned Gratiot jail site. However, only one firm, Chicago-based Walsh Construction, had responded to the county’s request for proposals.

Gilbert has been pursuing the Gratiot Avenue site for more than three years. His original plans were to turn the site into an entertainment complex that would create 5,500 jobs.

Construction of the 2,000-cell jail on the Gratiot Avenue site—for which the county has already spent about $150 million—halted half finished in June 2013 after revelations of potentially tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns. Litigation initiated by the Detroit Free Press forced the county to release an August 2013 draft report of an audit—which had been kept from county commissioners and members of the Wayne County Building Authority— that projected the new jail would run at least $41 million over its $300 million budget. The draft report showed that county officials had known about the potential overruns since 2011.

If the county accepts Rock Ventures’ proposal, the cost of the new soccer stadium, along with a hotel, office buildings and a residential tower, is estimated in the $225 million to $250 million range. 

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