Despite bankruptcy, Detroit’s new $400 million dollar hockey rink is a “go”

posted at 7:01 pm on July 27, 2013 by Bruce McQuain

Failure sometimes has an inertia that is difficult to stop.  Detroit’s reality is anything but pretty:

Detroit city services are already stretched extremely thin. On average, police take about an hour to respond to calls for help, and 40% of street lights are shut off to save money.

Because of a lack of funds, the police force has shrunk in size to the point that it simply can’t respond in any meaningful way to help citizens who are victims of crime.  As you might imagine then, crime is horrific. City services are so minimal as to almost be non-existent.  Yet the refusal to face that reality and deal with it still exists among those who should know better:

Advocates of the arena say it’s the kind of economic development needed to attract both people and private investment dollars into downtown Detroit. It’s an argument that has convinced Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager he appointed to oversee the city’s finances, to stick with the plan. Orr said Detroit’s bankruptcy filing won’t halt the arena plans.

“I know there’s a lot of emotional concern about should we be spending the money,” said Orr. “But frankly that’s part of the economic development. We need jobs. If it is as productive as it’s supposed to be, that’s going to be a boon to the city.”

A boon?  How can it be a boon to a city no one is willing to call home?  How can it be a boon to a city where the chance of being the victim of a crime is almost off the charts in comparison to other cities?  Without addressing those problems, how is a hockey rink going to attract anyone to Detroit?

It is this sort of leadership lunacy which led to Detroit’s current situation.  And the governor and state legislature don’t escape blame either, as it took a vote there in December to okay the project and expenditure.  In one of the few times you’ll see me agree with a Democrat about spending, I agree with this lady:

“If you want people to live in the city, and not just visit to go to games, you have to invest in schools, in having the police to respond to calls,” said Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic leader in the state senate. “There are so many investments that should trump a sports stadium.”

Precisely right.  So why, then, is this still going forward, given the current situation?  It’s absurd (and frankly, I’ve always believed that sports teams make enough money to build their own stadiums without taxpayer subsidy).

The state legislature approved it.  They can now disapprove it.  Yes, there may be a few contracts they are legally obligated to pay that have been let since the approval in December.  But it won’t be near $440 million dollars.  And, if that money is still available after it has been reclaimed, perhaps Kevyn Orr should make another trip to the capitol and convince the governor and legislature of the need to invest that money where it might help salvage Detroit, or at least begin to do those things necessary to improve the quality of life there so people will come back to live in the city.

A hockey rink isn’t one of those “necessary” things.


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“If you want people to live in the city, and not just visit to go to games, you have to invest in schools, in having the police to respond to calls,” said Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic leader in the state senate. “There are so many investments that should trump a sports stadium.”

Precisely right

Wait. How is this precisely right? How much more money do you throw at failed schools, at grossly overcompensated teachers and civil servants?

How about investing in an environment that draws economic opportunity? How about restructuring taxes to make business investment attractive?

Seems to me that the “precisely right” statement played a large part in getting them in the position they are in.

98ZJUSMC on July 28, 2013 at 10:42 AM

William Eaton on July 28, 2013 at 9:44 AM

The last arena was supposed to do all that for Detroit.

Where is all that vitality?

It isn’t about bringing a few businesses in, but the business climate that sucks. You can dress that pig up all you like, and it still doesn’t get you a thriving city. Check out the Baltimore crime rates if you want an eye-opener on what needs to be turned around there. A city that is so bad off that it needs a sports arena to get any businesses to come to downtown has a problem that an arena and its ring of businesses can’t fix.

Change the tax situation, fix the pension problems, restructure debt, concentrate on core services and infrastructure and unleverage from social programs that are eating up the city’s budget. It would be nice if a crony sports complex would do that, but it is a crony sports complex that gets special breaks, kick-backs, exemptions and such while letting the rest of the mess sit in place. The first sports team or set of teams to use a complex that gets together and demands the entire city’s business tax structure needs to be overhauled and the entire city move in the direction of getting fiscally solvent will do a great amount of good for that city as a whole and benefit as a result not only by getting their arena but getting businesses that will not be dependent on them to regrow the city’s employment base.

Let me know when that happens.

It will mark a turnaround from where we are now.

ajacksonian on July 28, 2013 at 10:55 AM

It has to be done one street at a time. The biggest problem cities have is the area that is safe to visit is too small.

Cities have to build from the outside in.

tomas on July 28, 2013 at 11:33 AM

This is a city with no money for civil services. It has 3 major league sports teams already. The teams haven’t stopped the hemmorrhaging; suburbanites come into the city for the games and immediately leave thereafter. What on earth makes them think that this time, this time, a new sports team will save them? It’s utter lunacy.

alwaysfiredup on July 28, 2013 at 12:58 PM

As for the benefit to a city for funding a new sports venue, there are only two ways that ever works (outside a credible threat to leave the area entirely, in which case it is merely maintenance of what benefit there already is):

– An expansion that allows more out-of-towners to attend a perpetually-sold-out venue (i.e. Green Bay’s Lambeau Field).
– Control of the environment that allows every game to be played as scheduled (e.g. Milwaukee’s Miller Park).

Of course, it also requires a competitive team, which explains why Marlins Park in Miami is a miserable failure.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 1:38 PM

I keep saying it and I’ll say it again……..the only thing Detroit can do to come back is for people to be able to go downtown and feel safe. We’re nowhere near that.

8 weight on July 28, 2013 at 4:26 PM