Dan Gilbert Detroit stadium plan takes advantage of administrative failures to get free land

Apr 1, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; A general view of the field at MAPFRE Stadium. Crew SC won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; A general view of the field at MAPFRE Stadium. Crew SC won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

A proposal by Rock Ventures to build a new MLS stadium in downtown Detroit promises an economic boon for the city, but requires the city to gift the land the facility would sit on to the company headed by Dan Gilbert.

The Dan Gilbert Detroit stadium plan looks like a win-win for both the city of Detroit and Gilbert’s company Rock Ventures. It’s not what the plan entails, but what it doesn’t entail that make it look lopsided in Gilbert’s favor, however.

A study commissioned by Rock and performed by the Center for Sport & Policy at the University of Michigan estimates that Gilbert’s plan could produce $2.4 billion in economic impact and create over 2,000 permanent new jobs.

Rock has proposed building a new MLS stadium on the currently-unfinished land that a new Wayne County jail was supposed to occupy. Construction has been halted since June of 2013 due to budget shortfalls according to Louis Aguilar of the Detroit News.

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Rock’s pledge includes a 23,000-seat stadium along with the auxiliary condominiums and hotels that usually accompany stadium projects in recent history. That’s not all, however. The company also has proposed building a correctional facility and courtrooms on a different site. All Gilbert asks for in return for this economic boon and new public facilities is for the city to give him the land that Rock’s new soccer stadium would occupy.

The problem with Gilbert’s proposal goes beyond just the potential inflation of the stadium project’s economic impact. It’s essentially a land grab by Gilbert, taking advantage of the government corruption that has led to the unfinished jail site staying vacant for nearly four years.

When the cost of building the jail ballooned by nearly two hundred million dollars and caused the stoppage in 2013, it prompted a three-year investigation by federal authorities of Wayne County officials.

No criminal charges have been filed, but that has opened the door for Gilbert to seemingly swoop in and provide a solution. It’s not unreasonable for Gilbert to want something in return for investing the money to construct a stadium, apartment building, hotel, jail and courthouses. His proposal doesn’t include a timeline for when the badly-needed courthouses and jails will be finished, however.

Because of that oversight at best, if not intentional avoidance, of committing to a timeline on the correctional facilities, the economic impact of Gilbert’s study means nothing. The study could show that $47 trillion in economic impact and millions of jobs would be generated. The main issue, the county’s need for new facilities, isn’t addressed.

Gilbert wants the city of Detroit to hand over the land it has planned on using for a new jail since 2011 for free, without any concrete plan to replace it. Until a concrete and acceptable plan to construct those facilities is presented, this is just an attempt by Gilbert to take advantage of the failures of others.