By: Terry Foster
Dan Gilbert, Tom Gores, Arn Tellum and all the people that are trying to push Major League Soccer to the failed jail site have already been told “no dice” by Wayne County officials.
In fact, Warren Evan’s spokesperson James Canning said the county plans on raising money and completing the jail site. They might need in excess of $250 million to do so. Right now there are no plans to sell to Gores and Gilbert, but Gilbert said they are ready to sink $1 billion into the Gratiot site — a parcel of land that they do not own.
By the way tax payer money will be used. Matt Cullen, who is president of Rock Ventures, said “a bulk of the money” will be privately financed. That means some money must come from the public.
The Gores-Gilbert group is proposing a plan that would seat 20,000-25,000 and house a new MLS team and my guess is the Prep Kickoff Classic would move from Wayne State’s Adams Field to the new stadium.
“Do we want a jail site at the foot of downtown on Gratiot?” Gilbert said during a Tuesday press conference.
I sure don’t and my forceful commentary earned a phone call from James Canning, who is the spokesperson for Wayne County Commissioner Warren Evans. He took exception to me calling executives and Wayne County politicians “idiots.” He was nice about it and wanted to explain their side of the issue.
Let me just say I get frustrated because I am sick and tired of dumb projects in Detroit that do not work out and make the city worse.
Despite Gilbert and Gores’ plan, Canning said that the jail will be completed and money will be raised. The question is when?
This is an interesting power play that I have no idea how it will play out. Gilbert and Gores told us they want this site, so they are leveraging Wayne County. Wayne County says they are building on the property.
I am sure Gilbert and Gores are trying to get penny’s in the dollar. But they won’t be able to. Gilbert and Gores must pay more than they want for the site.
I was angered early in the day by a Detroit Free Press story that said Wayne County plans on finishing the failed jail disaster. We see it every time we go downtown for a Lions or Tigers game. You cannot help but shake your head at this eyesore that is only trumped in ugliness by the train station’s urban blight on the other side of downtown.
I understand that hundreds of millions of dollars have been sunk into the failed jail. It will take hundreds of millions to finish it. However, it is time to negotiate.
It is also my understanding that if they do not get an MLS team, there could still be minor league professional soccer downtown. Regardless, downtown Detroit is better off with any type of soccer stadium than a jail right in the middle of all the action.
Heck, a bowling alley would be a better option. It seems as if the people who run the county disagree and are committed to this disaster.
Commissioner Raymond Basham D-Taylor still supports the Gratiot site.
“We should finish what we started,” Basham told the Free Press. “We need to move forward in this county. I think it would be worse than a step back, it would be a step and fall to again switch gears on the jail project.”
Wayne County Commission Vice Chair Alisha Bell, D-Detroit agreed telling the Free Press “Until we have exhausted all possible measures, which we haven’t done yet, I’m in favor of continuing to build the jail at the Gratiot site.”
A total of $151 million was spent before the project was halted over no-bid contracts, lack of supervision and undisclosed cost overruns of $41 million, and more. The county now spends about $1.7 million a month to maintain the site, according to a county official.
Whose bright idea was it to build there in the first place?
The key word is connection. Downtown Detroit has always been a pedestrian nightmare since J.L. Hudson’s, Crowley’s and dozens of other stores, shops, bakeries and shops left downtown. It is now returning to becoming a walkable downtown.
Why would you want a jail and court house blocking the connection between Greek town and the Stadium district? The mindset should have been to build a complex outside of downtown. There is plenty of abandoned land to do so, but Cannon said Wayne County does not have the money. It needs help.
I want to see entertainment and housing in this area. I want to see people having fun on weekends, not being led around in ankle cuffs and orange jump suits. I want to see more connection in downtown Detroit, not another spot that people avoid.
At the very least speak with the Gores and Gilbert group and see if something can be worked out.
If Wayne County continues to stall it is likely that the stadium would be pushed to the River Front near West Jefferson. It is a beautiful site along the river. I just don’t like it.
This is beyond the borders of downtown tucked behind the United States Post office. Once again a major project becomes a fortress. It does not connect with downtown Detroit. It is a stadium that would sit off by itself and you’d need a jig saw puzzle to figure out to get there.
But I am still holding out something can be worked out.
(Foster can be reached at Terry.Foster@cbsradio.com)