The Wayne County Jail Site has been one of the most fought over locations in Metro Detroit in some time. While the county seem steadfast in finishing their project, the citizens of Metro Detroit have had the attitude that something else must be done. Famous Detroiter Dan Gilbert recently sent in a proposal to attain the Wayne County property.
After the proposal was caught by Detroit media, many felt this could finally be the turning point for both the jail site and the efforts to bring Major League Soccer to Metro Detroit. One question that comes to mind, however, is how much is this going to cost?
That answer was given in full detail by The Metro Times in an article relaying the financial side of this potential deal.
The piece portrays the perceived simplicity of the deal and how it is nowhere near as simple as it appears:
On its face, the proposal would not require taxpayers to foot the bill for the potential sports facility, but that could change if Gilbert-backed legislation to allow “transformational” development projects to capture tens of millions in tax dollars receives approval in Lansing. Also at issue is the proposed soccer stadium’s location within the Downtown Development Authority district. And a provision that would have Wayne County paying Rock an unspecified “credit” for money saved through the jail consolidation could tip the delicate balance of what Gilbert’s folks are billing as a win-win against the county.
The speculation in the piece put the aforementioned “credit” in a value range of approximately $116 million. This credit would already be exacerbated by the severe overspending the jail site has forced the county into.
The piece closes out with a cautionary message from the county and those who are eager to jump at the opportunity to get this embarrassing saga to come to a close.
It behooves county officials to proceed with caution. Construction of the half-built jail is already way over budget, and the county was on track to spend $90 million more than the $300 million it had originally intended before it halted the effort in June 2013. But as the jail site sits idle, maintenance bills are piling up. The Free Press reported in 2015 that the county was paying $1.2 million a month on upkeep of the site — and as the pause approaches the four-year mark this spring — that cost will be somewhere near $60 million.
Building the site elsewhere, however, could force the county to repay $51 million in federal bonds that it has already received for the jail and could jeopardize future subsidies. Evans said Monday that the county is working to find out how much it may be on the hook for, and Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak indicated that any potential bond penalty would scuttle the Gilbert deal, which will need final approval from the commission.
And for those who decide to use the “economic prosperity” argument for the stadium taking over the jail site, the piece addresses that as well.
It’s unclear how Rock Ventures arrived at that estimate, however, because the company will not release the economic impact report it hired the University of Michigan’s Center for Sports Policy to compile. Many economists have determined that stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth; a 2008 look at almost 20 years of peer-reviewed studies on the economic impact of stadiums, arenas, and sports franchises found no substantial evidence of increased jobs, incomes, or tax revenues in communities associated with these things. The Brookings Institution has separately found that most of the arguments to support the construction of stadiums — jobs, new spending by people who attend games — are based on bad economic reasoning that leads to overstated benefits.
For more news regarding Detroit’s MLS efforts, keep tuned to Detroit Sports Nation.