By Eric Thomas
Many Detroiters came to the announcement with a wide smile: We’re getting a shiny new stadium.
The proposed $650 million structure has been talked about in dreamy tones, tongues wagging at the prospect of not only an arena but an adjacent “entertainment district,” a phrase that sounds straight out of a dystopian post-apocalyptic Orwellian nightmare. The structure, along with the district of entertainment, will be in the same basic area as the others, walking distance from the Fillmore, Fox, Comerica Park and Ford Field, Greektown and the Casinos, and Quicken Loans…and Compuware, and pretty much everything else that Detroit has done in the past ten years while the city around them rots.
Since the installation of Comerica Park, Detroit has been hyper-focused on a single spot. Massive buildings have been built, restaurants opened, culture injected. Long time residents love the sight, downtown is often dryly called Disneyland by those who remember the 80s. Downtown is beautiful now, never more than during Superbowl XL, when the buildings sparkled in spotlights under a sky straight out of a snow globe.
That transformation gave us good old-fashioned city pride when we think of that progress. Comerica Park offered almost immediate oxygen to downtown, and immediately solved a problem. The cause and effect results are in, a stadium can transform a failing neighborhood to a successful one.
So why not put the new Red Wings stadium somewhere else? Why can we only have our stadiums downtown? Why not another neighborhood that so desperately needs good news?
The report from Emergency Manager Kevin Orr is grim on a number of levels. While the assessment of basic city services is scary, the fact that 40% of the street lights don’t work is daunting, the most sobering number is 78,000. That’s the number of abandoned buildings in Detroit. Of those, 38,000 are considered dangerous structures. That number is so impossibly high it can steal your breath.
Detroit’s painful blight has been the landscape most of us have known for a long time, the sight of city rot is everywhere. Rather than pointing fingers and assigning blame—no city has suffered more from the assignment of blame than Detroit—this needs to be addressed as the crisis it is. Let’s face it, the blight situation is far beyond crisis for a few cities in Michigan.
Installing yet another stadium, along with the district designed for the entertainment of humans, isn’t going to make a huge difference downtown. It means jobs, but those jobs would still be added if you put the stadium in other places. Proponents of the proposal mention that there will be more bars and restaurants and retail locations as a result of the arena, and they’re right. The newly opened establishments will then compete with all the other establishments that are currently downtown. Eventually there will be businesses that win and lose, and someone will hang a “For Lease” sign in the window of a business that seemed so promising when the ribbon was cut. That’s how the problems start.
Concentrating every available dollar on a few blocks while the rest of the city slowly turns to ashes seems short sighted. Granted, Detroit has made many textbooks as an example of urban sprawl. A recent study by the Brookings Institution revealed the city lead the nation that category, 77% of all jobs are more than ten miles away from the city’s core. The often used phrase is that Detroit is a city designed for millions when only hundreds of thousands live between the borders. True, but the hyper-development of downtown has been a massive overcorrection. There needs to be some balance. Keep the stadium within city limits, but downtown has gotten enough attention.
Every person who has ever called themselves a Detroiter takes pride in the resuscitation of the downtown district. The project was an unmitigated success. Why not do it with another neighborhood?
(Credit: @JoshHolub for suggesting this)