Gilbert to Detroit: Give me $300m and free MLS stadium land, and abracadabra, get a new jail!

I’ve seen a lot of convoluted stadium subsidy proposals over the year, but I’ve got to admit that “give me at least $300 million plus free land so I can build a pro soccer stadium and I’ll build the city a new jail” is a new one. Deadspin explains:

The plot of land [where Dan] Gilbert wants to build the new arena is on Gratiot Avenue in downtown Detroit. Wayne County was in the process of building a jail on the site until 2013 when officials announced that project, estimated to cost $220 million, was likely going to run far over budget (closer to $391 million). So it sat unfinished for more than three years. The county is issuing a request for proposals to finish the jail on Friday, after which it will decide what to do with the site.

But ahead of that deadline has arrived a proposal from Gilbert-owned Rock Ventures LLC. The group announced yesterday that it had made an offer to build Wayne County a new “consolidated criminal justice complex” at a different site, about one and a half miles away, the Detroit Free Press reported. In return, Gilbert’s company would get $300 million from the county, the rights to the Gratiot Avenue jail site, and what’s described as a “credit to be paid to the company for the savings a new consolidated criminal justice complex would provide.”

How much Gilbert’s soccer stadium would cost isn’t clear — it’s being described as a “$1 billion commercial development,” but obviously much of that wouldn’t be the soccer part. But whatever Gilbert would be spending on whatever, he’s looking to get paid $300 million plus land plus that undefined “credit” in exchange for building a new jail on a different site, something he says is worth $420 million, which is even more than the city’s over-budget stalled jail would cost.

Many, many questions, in other words, most of which Gilbert no doubt hopes that Detroit’s journalists will be too busy to really put their minds to unraveling. After all, it’s the central secret of magic!


18 comments on “Gilbert to Detroit: Give me $300m and free MLS stadium land, and abracadabra, get a new jail!

  1. I realize Detroit’s a top 11 market, but adding an MLS team to the mix with 4 other pro teams, and a major college program nearby, is going to make for a crowded sports market.

    • The situation in Minnesota should bear watching as well, what with MSP having four pro teams and a major college program IN town. It’ll be interesting to see how the pecking order shakes out, especially after the new car smell wears off on the new MLS franchise.

      Worst case scenario, they end up like the Rapids in Colorado — different context and ownership situation there, but they seem to be a distant 5th as far as the local pro sports priorities go.

      • They should be better off than the Rapids though. Minnesota’s going to be playing in a downtown stadium with public transport access (they’re literally building on top of an old bus barn) and United already has a pretty solid fanbase with its NASL team.

  2. He is also offering a couple other justice related buildings , I believe one is a juve center. That credit TBD is going to make his proposal an uphill battle. Otherwise the math to figure things out should have been straight forward.

    • They want free land (worth what?) + $300 Million+ “a credit paid to the company for the savings a new consolidated criminal justice complex would provide” (What’s that worth?-I don’t even know what that means). The whole jail building process may “stink”, but it seems to me this costs Detroit too much, especially with a MLS stadium as the central(?) reason to do it.

  3. The $420mil Gilbert is throwing out also includes a new courthouse and juvenile detention facilities on top of the new jail. Those would both replace existing facilities downtown. So, yes, higher than the $390mil the county was estimating to finish the new jail, but it replaces more than just the jail. That bit of the deal at least seems like a decent exchange for the county. “Give me the land and the money, and I’ll build you the jail and replace some other buildings for a little more than what you were going to pay anyways.” But still would be curious to hear more about these “credits”.

    • The TBD is the most concerning part, and what we know about billionaires like Gilbert, there are strings attached to even that. No way he builds anything on his own dime without completely offsetting the costs. In other words, you better believe he will be looking to make up the difference between $450 million and 4300 million.

      The man isn’t a billionaire for nothing.

  4. Also heard locally that there’s $150M in improvements spent on the jail site already. Shouldn’t cost the entirety to complete the facility.

  5. This is worth it just to see a jail converted into a stadium. Fans can call it “the Pen”. One of those security system companies could get the naming rights.

  6. Also keep in mind a jail at front steps of downtown will pay zero in property taxes as opposed to a billion in private development.

    • Sports stadia have a history of generating exactly the same total property tax revenue as publicly owned/operated jails, however. It remains to be seen what the details of this deal are with respect to the private development (all kinds of options to avoid paying property taxes there too, including paying them but having them kicked back etc)

      Also, any word on who pays demolition and site prep costs on the existing half built jail site? That’s important too… sometimes developers specify that the site will be cleared and free of all encumbrances (buildings, environmental concerns, poor people living there, etc) when they take possession.

      I’m sure there are many details yet to work out, but the these do matter in judging the net benefit (if any) of the proposal.

  7. The deal involves Dan Gilbert, which means 100% of the time the public is going to get a royal colonoscopy. The man is a sociopath, the next time he tells the truth will be the first time he tells the truth.

    • That can’t be true…. why just a few years ago I recall him saying how terrible Lebron James was and how Cleveland was better off without him and….

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