Little Caesars Arena and Broken Promises

When construction began on the Little Caesars Arena in “midtown” Detroit on April 24, 2015, there was a lot of hope pushed by the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings owners, the Illitch family, about how the arena was going to give the city of Detroit a well needed facelift. The $863 million project — a 20,000-seat state-of-the-art arena anchoring 12 acres of mixed-use buildings and a parking garage — is the centerpiece of The District Detroit, the family’s wider $2 billion, 50-city-block development plan. That plan included the arena, as well as, office space, new residential buildings and parks for the new residents to people watch and walk their dogs. Very little of that plan, to date, has come to fruition.

  HBO’s Real Sports did a recent news documentary on this that didn’t present the Ilitch’s or the company, Olympia Development, in a favorable light. Although the Red Wing’s owners did not want to speak to HBO or Crain’s Business, they did put out a statement regarding HBO’s video publication. The statement reads,

“Our organization has six decades of dedication, commitment and positive impact throughout the broader Detroit community. We are exceptionally proud of our accomplishments, including the creation of thousands of jobs, the restoration of various historic buildings, and the development of a downtown sports and entertainment district which has surged since the opening of Little Caesars Arena. It is unfortunate when a media outlet emphasizes the voices of the critical few and not the voices of many who would present the positive story that is taking place across our City. The result was a self-interested, sensationalized and inaccurate report designed to attract viewers instead of a balanced report on the rebirth of Detroit and our contributions to City’s turn around.

Public funds for the arena came from specific tax dollars allocated to fund a catalyst development project that would drive economic growth in the City of Detroit. Our commitment to the City was to develop a $450 million arena, and, within 5 years, deliver $200 million in additional development directly or by others. The reality is that we exceeded our commitment and also know that this catalyzed numerous other development project in and around the arena, including a variety of residential. We invested over $863 million in a state-of-the art, award winning arena and are on track to have over $200 million in private development completed this year, roughly 5 years ahead of schedule.

We remain undeterred in our commitment to the City and its bright future. We will continue to invest in successful projects that will drive job creation, economic growth, and enhance, for years to come, the quality of life for Detroiters.”

  Nowhere in that statement is the issue at hand addressed. They bring up past accomplishments and, to be fair, the did do a great job of restoring the historic Fox Theater in Downtown Detroit, but that has little to do with their promises of a thriving “midtown” development around the new arena. Nor does it mention the $364 million dollars Detroit taxpayers’ portion of the $450 million arena or the fact that lobbyists were used to in both Lansing and at the Detroit City Council to change the law and take money that was originally allocated for schools and move it for the building of “District Detroit.”

  Visiting the area surrounding the new arena, one does not see any new residential buildings and very few office spaces. What can be seen is an over abundance of parking lots and parking garages which, unlike the deal with the Red Wings former home at the Joe Louis Arena where the city received half of the revenues from merchandising and parking, the city receives none this time around. The city’s return on the investment has been the same old blight that has lived in Detroit for decades.

  If the Little Caesars Arena was built with private funds, little could be said regarding the lack of fulfilled promises. The Ilitch’s not only solidified what was already demonstrated by the ownership of the Red Wings when they bought the Stanley Cup in 2002 and showcased their Pragmatism, they also showed their true colors when it comes to business. They are nothing more than corporate welfare receiving crony capitalists. To the Ilitch’s, the ends really do justify the means, especially if it fills their pocketbooks. For shame.

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