Residents near proposed jail site voice frustrations to County Executive
Shahida Mausi has deep roots in the neighborhood being proposed as the most likely new location of the Wayne County Jail complex on 13 acres of city-owned land bounded by the I-75 Service Drive, East Warren, East Ferry, Russell and Frederick. Those roots go back nearly 90 years, which may explain why she – and many others – felt compelled to attend a community meeting last week held at Bethel AME Church on St. Antoine where residents were given the opportunity to listen to Wayne County Executive Warren Evans discuss the reasons for possibly locating a jail in their neighborhood (the deal is still not a done deal).
But more importantly, it gave the Wayne County Executive the opportunity to listen to them. And although the crowd was polite, and none in the long line of speakers were shaking their fists in the air or creating much of a ruckus, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of those in attendance were not at all in favor of having their beloved neighborhood be home to a new jail.
“I come to this from a position of legacy and concern, and concern for that legacy going forward,” said Mausi, whose company, The Right Productions, has managed and operated Chene Park for the past 14 years.
“When you talk about over 2,000 prisoners being served and the attendant traffic…I’ve been in that neighborhood long enough to know that that was light industrial, not heavy industrial. And the trucks did not come down East Ferry. I, too, would much rather see the Ferry Street bridge closed, the landscaping and the direction of traffic that protects a neighborhood that is in resurgence. We understand that the county can limit the liability by doing this deal. And as a Wayne County taxpayer, I’m interested in seeing that the county s protected. But I’m also a property owner, and I’m concerned that the savings to the county at large will be disproportionately born by some of the property owners in the area. So I want to make sure the county is whole, but then the property owners are whole as well.”
Another neighborhood resident who identified himself as Nicholas Miller, who had obviously done a considerable amount of research before attending the forum, expressed the concerns of many in the audience about the possibility of crime rates going up with the construction of a new jail. Evans assured the group that this was not at all likely to happen, stressing the increased numbers of police officers, sheriffs, and other officials who would be in the area. Not to mention the 6-lane highway that would separate the neighborhood from the actual facility.
But Miller wasn’t buying it.
“You keep suggesting that the area around the county courthouse is extremely safe. I pulled the numbers directly from DPD and I called Wayne State Police to confirm that it included their own numbers, and there are four times more reported crimes in a quarter mile radius. …from Frank Murphy [Hall of Justice],” said Miller.
Miller said that there were just 200 crimes committed in their neighborhood during the past 11 months, but 800 within a quarter mile of Frank Murphy.
“In Lafayette Park, there were 50% more crimes, and almost two and a half times more vehicle thefts and break-ins than our neighborhood; 59 versus nearly 150 in Lafayette Park,” he said.
“Also, if you drew a circle with a quarter mile radius from Rosa Parks Transit Center, there’s only 400 crimes. So that’s half as dangerous as the area right around the current jail and courthouse, and this is going to have 50% more inmates than the current jail and courthouse complex downtown.”
Rene Dooley also had concerns about safety and crime, especially as those issues related to children.
“My concern is about the safety of the children and schools. There are at least five schools that are less than a five-minute walk …from the proposed site. Would you want your grandchildren coming out of school waiting for a ride to get home? Some of those children are there two and three hours after school is over in an area where you’re saying that jail breaks are rare. But it only takes one time. It only takes one time for something bad to happen,” she said.
During his opening remarks, Evans said he understood there were concerns about the jail, and acknowledged that hardly anyone wants a jail to be built in their back yard. He also said that he would continue to dialogue with the residents “ad nauseum,” working with them to address their concerns as best he could in an effort to work with them. Describing his reasons for why he had changed his mind about going with the Dan Gilbert/Rock Ventures proposal versus building on the troubled Gratiot site, he said it had a lot to do with saving money for the county. Additionally, there are concerns about as-yet-unseen potential cost overruns at the Gratiot site which has endured four long winters that have damaged the facility noticeably. This increased damage which will likely require all sorts of repairs that weren’t necessary four years ago. The Rock Ventures proposal comes with a fixed cost, meaning any and all cost overruns would be born by Rock Ventures, not by the county.
“Even if we were to try to complete that jail, it’s fraught with a bunch of problems because we can’t use the builders that we did before, and we can’t use the architects that we did before,” he said. “It was actually my druthers when I came into this job was to finish on the existing [Gratiot] site. So that has been my position all along. But it hasn’t turned out to the best choice for WC taxpayers. …Cost containment of the project would be extremely difficult.
“Regardless of where the jail goes, we have three jails now. One we’ve been remodeling. The other one was built maybe 30-40 years ago but it was built for maybe 550 prisoners. It’s never had less than 1,100 so it’s almost functionally obsolete because it’s really been beat up over the years with more people in it than it’s been designed for. And then we have a third jail in Hamtramck. The idea here was to consolidate all of the prisoners into one state-of-the-art facility.
“If we finished on the old jail with the Walsh proposal, The option for the jail would be about $353 million for 2200 beds. It’s the $353 million, plus we would have to renovate the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. The courts gotta be able to support the jail. Best guestimates we’ve got on that is about $40 million. So we’re really close to $380 million, which is the cost to us on the Gilbert proposal. So on its face, they cost about the same, except that there are a couple of significant advantages of the Gilbert proposal to us. One is, the cost is contained. Whatever it costs, if we pay our $380 million, our costs are capped and contained. In other words, Rock Ventures is responsible for anything over that cost. So once we would sign the deal, we’re done financially. If it costs them a billion dollars to make it, it’s on them and not us.
“If you look at finishing the jail on Gratiot, with the structure that’s there, it’s been through four winters, and I’ve said before we have different construction people and different architects finishing the work, I have no idea what the overall cost would be, but my gut tells me there would be tons of change orders changing the price, increasing price, slowing the project, increasing the price. We’ve already had one failed jail scenario. I’m not looking for a second one.”