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Corporate owner of Tacoma’s immigration detention center buys naming rights to Florida football stadium, sparking protests

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on March 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm with No Comments »
March 2, 2013 3:19 pm

The corporate owner of the federal immigration detention center on Tacoma’s Tide Flats recently bought the naming rights to Florida Atlantic University’s new football stadium — a move that has sparked sit-ins and other student protests.

GEO Group logoThe GEO Group, the second largest private prison contractor on the planet, has paid $6 million for naming rights to FAU’s stadium for the next 12 years, according to various published reports.

George Zoley, chief executive officer and chairman for the company that has reported as much as $2.8 billion in annual earnings in recent years, is an alumnus of the college in Boca Raton, where GEO is also headquartered.

News of the naming rights deal struck last month promptly drew a backlash.  Students criticized it in campus editorials, staged sit-in protests at the university president’s office, and today, reportedly turned hostile during a public forum with FAU President Mary Jane Saunders. (In a flair of creativity, students for the college, whose mascot is the Owls , also apparently are donning T-shirts that dub the stadium, “Owlcatraz.”)

But while all that action is happening some 3,000 miles away, GEO keeps on keeping on in these parts.

The company has owned the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma since late 2005, presiding over its operations during an unprecedented boom in America’s immigration detention industry.  As we reported in Center of Detention — our explanatory series about the Tacoma lock-up published in September — the Northwest Detention Center is now the fourth largest ICE-contracted immigration detention facility in the nation. 

Under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s contract with GEO in Tacoma,  the company is required to maintain a minimum of 1,181 beds available at all times for ICE use.  In recent months, the detention center’s population has hovered between 1,200 and 1,300 detainees, ICE officials said this week. As of Monday, its morning population count was 1,295 detainees.  ICE pays GEO $100.65 each day per bed for the first 1,181 beds, and $62.52 daily per bed for every occupied bed in excess of the contract minimum up to the facility’s capacity. 

The GEO Dome, anyone?
The GEO Dome, anyone?

For math-challenged readers of this post (and for its writer), a quick tour on the calculator shows the contract terms simply mean that GEO rakes in big bucks in Tacoma. At worst, the company takes in, before expenses, $43.4 million per year, while at best, it could make $52.5 million.  The truth of the Northwest Detention Center’s annual revenues lies somewhere in between.

But given GEO’s recent naming rights deal at FAU, its lucrative local contract here and the fact that an arena consultant recently recommended to city officials that they consider selling naming rights to help pay for a Tacoma Dome renovation one day, I just gotta ask:

Could The GEO Dome be in the offing?

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