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Ficano Tries To Explain Wayne County Jail Debacle

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Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano (Credit: WWJ  Newsradio 950) FILE

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano (Credit: WWJ Newsradio 950) FILE

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DETROTI (WWJ) - The unfinished downtown Wayne County Jail is in limbo.

Wayne County commissioners unanimously voted on Thursday to end construction after it was learned the project could run $391 million — $91 million over budget —  if it continued.

The 2,000-bed jail initially was to cost $220 million. Construction at the site, which is now-abandoned, was suspended two months ago.

Now, a report says $42 million of taxpayer dollars were recently spent on the jail without any oversight from the Wayne County Building Authority.

So, what caused the extreme cost over-runs? 

Speaking live on WWJ Newsradio 950 Thursday morning, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano tried to explain the debacle.

“There was supposed to be a set price for the jail. When we found out that the professionals that were building it said it was going to cost more than they originally projected, we stopped it. We were authorized, the bonds were up to $300 million. We did the prudent thing, we stopped it. We were projected to go over and we stopped it before we actually spent the money,” he said.

Ficano said he doesn’t think he should apologize to the taxpayers for the cost overruns.

“When you get into this job, it’s just like running a business, there’s going to be ups and downs. The test of what you do is that when you find out something that gets off the tracks, you go, you step in, you make an assessment and you make adjustment. That’s exactly what we’re doing here. We’re trying to move on,” he said.

But, does Ficano take any blame in the situation?

“Look, it’s in a report that was released yesterday. There was $42 million by the project manager that was hired by the county that approved the $42 million… so it wouldn’t be prudent to go beyond that, and we’re trying to, at this point, make sure that the taxpayers are protected,” he said.

Ficano said he’s considering proposals to sell 14-acres of land where the partial structure now sits, that will in turn cause a revitalized downtown and more money for the county.

“When we started this… back in 2010, there was over 200 million square feet of empty office space in downtown Detroit. This was the logical place to put the jail, because it was right across from the court,” he said. “Now what has happened, we’re three years later, and the value has dramatically gone up in downtown Detroit.”

Ficano’s plan is to move the jail, as well as the courts, to the state’s Mound Correctional Facility.

“What we’ve been able to look at and partner with the state, is that they have vacant buildings out on the east side, the old prison site. So, we’re looking at a partnership of going out there, also the courts would probably move out there as well, vacating that property which has a high value now that is going to be able to have private investment on it,” he said.

“That means now, instead of the jail and courts that pay no taxes out there, you’ll have private investments that will be paying taxes to the city of Detroit, Wayne County and to the state of Michigan. At the same time, if we go out the Mound location and move the courts out there, we’ll be able to do something that everybody’s talked about — put investment actually in the neighborhood,” he added.

County officials on Thursday will recommend terminating contracts for the current construction, for convenience to save funds, at a special meeting of the Wayne County Building Authority.

“At this point, if you look at the price that we’ll probably be able to sell the property, the tax investments that are going to come in, the new investment that’s going to go out on the east side, we should be able to come out with a win-win,” Ficano said.

If the authority eventually approves moving the jail to the Mound facility, significant renovation work would be necessary to modify it into a high-security jail that will house prisoners waiting for arraignments and trials, along with other who are serving sentences of less than one year.

In addition to renovating and building additional jail capacity at the Mound location, a new courthouse and juvenile detention facility would also need to be built to replace the current facilities in downtown Detroit.

Ficano said the county has been in discussions with the governor’s office to find ways to build a City-County-State partnership that provides efficiencies for all three. Negotiating an agreement for a public private partnership is expected to take several months.

As for rumors that the FBI is looking into the failed jail deal, Ficano said they’re just that, rumors.

“I have no idea, we have, I have no knowledge of that at all. We’ve cooperated with anything that they want and I have no knowledge of them looking into anything about this,” he said.

Stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBSDetroit.com for the latest.

MORE: Ficano Suggests Scrapping Half-Finished Jail Project

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