From Incarceration to Innovation: New Plans Revealed for Failed Wayne County Jail Site

On a rainy and dreary Autumn afternoon, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, University of Michigan President Mark Schlisselphilanthropist Stephen Ross, and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans all took the stage to address a makeshift tent full of reporters and many other eager observers, at the site of the aborted Wayne County Jail project. But on this occasion, the conversation was centered around liberation instead of incarceration, and the plans unveiled were anything but makeshift.  

As one attendee confidently asserted, “Instead of a thousand prisoners, we’re going to have a thousand graduate students.” 

Mayor Duggan revealed plans to repurpose the site which will now become home to the new 14-acre Detroit Center for Innovation. The center represents Detroit’s newest bold plan to provide the next generation of world leaders with access to top of the line educational resources, innovative entrepreneurial opportunities, and an infrastructure that encourages camaraderie and collaboration.  

But everyone on stage agreed that just as important as the new initiatives is ensuring that these opportunities are available to all people from all backgrounds.  

As Walker-Miller Energy Services CEO Carla Walker Miller put it, “Detroit is back in business. But the good news is that it’s not business as usual.”  

The center will offer a wide array of facilities and services for young people across all industries and levels of experience, including: 

  • A $300 million, 190,000squarefoot academic building operated by the University of MichiganThe building will serve students at a senior-level undergraduate or above in completing advanced degrees in high-tech industries. Financial backing is provided by donors, most notably Related Cos. Chairman Stephen Ross and Rock Ventures Founder Dan Gilbert. 
  • An Incubator and startup services to guide entrepreneurs in the right direction.  
  • A collaboration space for established companies. 
  • Housing for students, a conference center and a hotel.

 The center stays true to Detroit’s long history of being home to some of the best innovators and change makers the world has to offer. 

“Detroit has always been a leader in innovation, and this new center will help ensure that this continues to be the case into the future. It also sends a powerful message to our young people about the city we are trying to build together,” Mayor Duggan remarked. 

“Instead of turning this into a place where Detroiters are taken to be incarcerated, we are going to build for them one of the finest learning centers anywhere, filled with hope and real opportunity.” 

Development for the project is currently in the planning stage, with Mayor Duggan and County Executive Evans pledging to take the next three to six months to sort through all of the details essential to making sure that the planned additions to the project are feasible and set up for success from the time workers break ground on the site. If all goes well, construction is expected to get under way in 2021. 

The center fits perfectly in line with the state of Michigan’s broader goals of not just creating a place for present talent to get the job done, but cultivating a mindset that will hopefully see Michigan march forward as the most skilled pipeline of both workers and job creators in the future. 

“The Detroit Center for Innovation combines vision, leadership, and a deep commitment to this city and state and I am very appreciative of the efforts of all involved,” said Governor Whitmer.   

“This is an exciting opportunity for students all around the world, and is an exclamation point on Michigan’s efforts to build, attract, and retain the best workforce in America.”  

A perfect example of Michigan showcasing the best talent on a worldwide stage is Cass Tech 9th Grader Charisse Woods and her ability to steal the show in a room full of the most influential people the city and state has to offer. Woods is an international chess sensation whose performance has earned her spot in worldwide events, most recently in India. She even bested Mayor Duggan in a game. She closed out the ceremony with a straightforward, but important message.  

“Remember to smile, it’s contagious and looks good on you.” Talents like Charisse provide us all a reason to smile and hopefully the Detroit Center for Innovation will induce many more smiles in the future. 



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