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Warren Evans Feeling Pressure After Gilbert's Soccer Stadium Proposal

DETROIT (WWJ) -- After billionaire Dan Gilbert revealed lavish plans for a new major league soccer stadium to be built on the site of a half-built jail project this week, many thought the next move would be by Wayne County executive Warren Evans.

However, Evans says that it is up to Gilbert and his investment group -- which includes Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores -- to make a proposal to buy the land that makes sense for the county's taxpayers.

In the meantime, Evans is planning to fully move on with the jail plans.

"The ball is in their court, it's not in my court," Evans said on Friday. "I'm on a process to finish a jail -- period. If they come up with a proposal in the amount of time that I have left and it doesn't cost Wayne County taxpayers any more money, I will definitely consider it."

Despite his tough stance, Evans said there is pressure on him now after Gilbert's public announcement.

"That's part of business," Evans said. "You'll get a full-court press, but the question is am I going to fold to the press? I don't think so."

MLS Arena Map2
MLS Detroit Rendering (Credit/Gores Gilbert)

Gilbert, who was accompanied by MLS commissioner Don Garber at the announcement on Wednesday, said the stadium will host many events, including major and amateur league soccer, rugby, lacrosse and other big events.

Gilbert said there was "no Plan B" if plans for proposal go south.

Construction on the Gratiot Ave. property -- a 2,000-bed jail -- went wildly over budget. Work has been idled for about two-and-a-half years due to cost overruns totaling more than $90 million.

Gilbert said he met with Evans, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and others to discuss a possible deal, offering $50 million for the site.

"The real question though for the county and the community and the people of Detroit is, you know, do we want a jail at the foot of downtown and the front door?" Gilbert said. "Or do we want a major development that's gonna create economic, great economics for job creation, for, you know, tax roll creation and for overall optimism as you move through the city?"

Wayne State University law professor John Mogk, a longtime urban development expert, believes all sides would like to get this deal done.

"It's difficult to know how the two sides would come together," Mogk said. "But, I think Warren Evans is correct that taxpayers should not have to pay anymore. But, the great advantage of this particular project is nobody knows more how to creatively finance a transaction than Dan Gilbert -- he's proven that with all of the work he's done downtown.

"People will come together at the table and they'll reach an agreement," Mogk said.

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