The decaying buildings stand near the south side of 5 Mile Road, a tantalizing snapshot of Plymouth Township's past against the backdrop of its gleaming future of commercial businesses and luxury homes.
The Detroit House of Corrections -- which once ushered thousands of prisoners through its doors from 1922 until 1986, when it was officially closed -- has been the topic of debate for the township residents, most of whom would like to see the structures torn down, and also for its leaders, who would like to see the property back on the tax rolls.
"Interest in the property sharply leveled off in 2008," said Township Richard Reaume. "Of course, we'd like to see something else on it, but it's a big parcel of land. We'd like to see a major development happening there, but the reality is that the economy and the fact that the land is contaminated is a problem."
Trustee Bob Doroshewitz also said the property is a matter of concern for the city.
"I personally would like to see a project like an amphitheater there; I think it's something that has worked in other communities and I think the locations is right," he said. "But at this point, I'd take anything except big box retail.
"You can see the property is in a state of decline," he said. "It's a matter of time before it becomes a nuisance."
A long history
The Detroit House of Corrections site officially opened for business in 1920 as a prison farm that mostly housed bootleggers, who served their sentences in tents. The property, once about 1,000 acres, was acquired by the City of Detroit, in 1919 with the intentions of building a prison in Plymouth and Northville townships.
In 1930, a $2.5 million permanent structure was built, and other buildings were constructed throughout the years. But by the mid-1980s, the city sold the property to the Michigan Department of Corrections. In 1986, the Detroit House of Corrections was closed.
Since then, it's been a difficult road finding someone to purchase the land because it would have to environmentally remediate, and the structures would have to be torn down.
An environmental study in 2007 reported that there was contamination at the site, which means any buyer would have to clean up the land before another development could break ground.
A business could receive help through the state's Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to address cleanup costs, but the costs could still be considered prohibitive by developers.
Reaume said that this, and the state of the local economy, negatively affects what would under any other circumstances would be considered prime real estate.
"If you have someone who wants to open a store, there are several empty stores," he said. "If someone wants to open a corporate headquarters, there are several empty buildings," he said. "There's just too many options right now."
The prison property encompasses more than 150 acres in Plymouth Township. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the prison land was a hot property for both townships, and officials were anxious to get the property back on the tax roles. In 2002, two developers expressed interest in purchasing the property, but the deals never materialized.
The land is currently owned by the State of Michigan. Calls were nor returned by the Michigan Department of Corrections or the Michigan Land Bank, which oversees the property.
A sale of any kind would put the property back on the tax rolls -- which is something Plymouth Township officials would like to see happen.
"Obviously we'd like to see something happening there," said Clerk Joe Bridgman. "It wouldn't be a windfall, but we'd it would go a long way for the city's tax base.