In search for new jail location, Cuyahoga County allowing property owners to apply for consideration

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A committee overseeing plans to build a new Cuyahoga County jail is narrowing a list of about two dozen potential locations, but before moving forward with any of them the county is conducting one more search.

The Justice Center Executive Steering Committee, with the help of a real estate company, has already ranked the viability of 28 locations for the new facility, but “we want to make sure there’s nothing else out there that’s better,” said Jeff Appelbaum, an attorney and project manager leading the committee.

The Department of Public Works is now giving Greater Cleveland property owners an opportunity to pitch their sites as the “future home of the Cuyahoga County Corrections Campus,” according to the request for proposal.

The 12-member committee did not ask for the expanded search and Appelbaum declined to say who did. But he stressed that the goal is to make sure no stone is left unturned in the search.

“It’s an additional process to be sure that we are considering all appropriate properties and that those who believe they have a property worthy of consideration have an opportunity to present it,” Appelbaum said.

Eligible properties must be within Cuyahoga County and have a minimum of 30 acres of contiguous, buildable land, though sites with 40 or more acres are preferred. Preference will be given to properties based on proximity and drive time to the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, Common Pleas Court, and medical facilities.

The ownership and use of neighboring properties will also be factored into the score. Sites will then be ranked, based on the criteria.

Of the initial list, the committee has identified about five properties it thinks may already be a good fit, County Councilman and committee member Michael Gallagher said. But they are awaiting additional testing and other information to determine if the properties remain suitable.

“It’s not going to hurt the process” if new sites are identified through this second proposal, Gallagher said, “but I don’t see something showing up that we haven’t looked at before.”

Interested property owners can learn more during a pre-proposal phone conference scheduled for 10 a.m. on Dec. 20. Proposals are due by Feb. 7.

Missing from the proposal description is consideration of a site’s proximity to highway or transit access, which the committee had originally identified as a key criterion. It became a flashpoint at the beginning of the year when two committee members accused County Executive Armond Budish of secretly asking consultants to target sites in East Cleveland that did not meet that condition, including the former Arco dump and another site that would require uprooting about 70 homeowners.

Budish has denied any impropriety, saying the final decision is still up to the committee, which includes representatives from his administration, County Council, the Common Pleas Court, and Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office.

Appelbaum attributed the omission in the proposal to “shorthand,” and stressed that the same criteria will still apply to all locations.

“If it’s not close to a highway or access, it will be a problem,” he said.

The new jail is projected to house 1,600 beds and cost up to $550 million, but the size and price could be reconfigured based on the jail population. Capacity has been a growing concern at the current facility, where the inmate population routinely hovers around 1,600.

The source of the funding for the new jail has not been determined, but Budish has proposed indefinitely extending a quarter-percent sales tax that is set to expire in 2027 to pay for it.

In addition to its request for properties, the county also is seeking consultants for building commissioning, survey, and geotechnical services for the new jail. Information about the requests and corresponding pre-proposal conferences can be found on the county’s Office of Procurement and Diversity website.