News & Features » Street Talk

South Side Jail?

Rejected plan to build jail on Commerce Road included retail shops, $112 million in economic impact.

by

comment

Developers behind the proposed city jail project promised 800 new jobs, more than $112 million in economic impact and the addition of a retail shopping strip that would employ 150 people and generate $15 million in annual economic impact.

But it’s not the proposal Mayor Dwight Jones selected last week.

As City Council begins to pore over Jones’ recommendation to hire Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction to build a new, $116.5 million city jail in the East End, details from the first proposal the city received are coming to light.

The proposal City Central LLC submitted in March of this year, and obtained by Style Weekly, is nearly identical to the unsolicited bid first submitted to the city on Feb. 16, 2010. City Central’s plans call for building a sprawling, one-story facility on a 40-acre site off Commerce Road. The group also proposed building a retail center adjacent to the jail, featuring a possible grocery store and other small retailers. City Central also included a workforce training facility nearby.

City Central’s plan was for the jail to anchor a “a comprehensive vision that links a needed new correctional facility to the revitalization of an historically significant south-side neighborhood and does so in a way that can be a model for minority economic participation in a major city project,” concluded Decide Smart, a local consultancy that prepared an economic impact analysis of the project for City Central in July 2010.

And the cost? $117 million. The original proposal, which caught city officials by surprise more than a year ago, was initially supported by the city, and Sheriff C.T. Woody. The site -- bounded by Commerce Road, Ingram Avenue, 17th and Bruce streets -- is closer to the Manchester courthouse than the existing jail, which sits on 6 acres on Fairfield Way.

In March 2010, Woody told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he preferred City Central’s location over the existing jail site, where Jones recommends building a new city jail. “That’s a perfect area over there, in my opinion,” Woody told the T-D. “I think it should be safer getting back and forth.”

But in July 2010, Jones told City Council that he’d always preferred the existing jail site, explaining that the state Board of Corrections had approved the location, which means the city would qualify for state funds for up to 25 percent of the construction costs.

“We do not want to jeopardize our approval or extend the schedule to obtain another approval for an alternate location,” Jones said on July 19, 2010, according to prepared remarks supplied to City Council.

But the City Central proposal also had preliminary approval from the state Board of Corrections, according to the group’s partners.

Art Hungerford, chief executive of Atlantic Constructors, sent an email to reporters earlier this week congratulating the Tompkins/Ballard team for winning the mayor’s approval.

“Beyond the debate over the site, we congratulate the [Tomkins/Ballard] team for an excellent design and price, and we wish them every success in building the new jail,” Hungerford wrote.

Other members of the team, however, weren’t as conciliatory. Al Bowers, owner of Bowers Family Enterprises, a minority contracting company and partner in the group, questioned the fairness of the process. After the mayor announced the selection of the Tompkins/Ballard group to build the jail last week, Bowers expressed frustration over the procurement process, and whether City Central’s initial unsolicited proposal had been “leaked,” giving competitors an unfair advantage.

“When you know people want to hang themselves, give them enough rope,” Bowers said.

As City Council begins to delve into the mayor’s proposed agreement with Tompkins/Ballard -- Jones’ hopes to win council’s blessing by July 25 -- the question, however, may be one of location. While City Central also put in a bid to build a new jail at the existing East End site -- for about $140 million -- the group’s projected cost for the South Side jail is nearly identical to the Tompkins/Ballard bid.

Add a comment