One thing I hate about these crazy-busy news week: I inevitably leave something out. Like, for example, Bill Shea’s excellent article in Sunday’s Crain’s Detroit Business revealing that Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is exploring having the state be the owner of his planned $650 million hockey-arena-plus-other-stuff development:
The suggestion to possibly use the Michigan Strategic Fund as the venue’s owner was discussed in a November meeting between state economic development executives and representatives of the Ilitch family, according to copies of emails obtained from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. by Crain’s through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Michigan Strategic Fund may be familiar to readers of the book Field of Schemes, as the state-controlled agency that former Michigan Gov. John Engler used to funnel $55 million in state money to the Detroit Tigers for their new stadium in the late ’90s. (The fund didn’t actually have $55 million in it, so Engler augmented it with money from a state casino gambling fee that was actually controlled by the legislature, leading to the famous state supreme court ruling that while Engler wasn’t technically allowed to do this, they’d let him get away with it just this once.) That’s the Detroit Tigers that are owned by Mike Ilitch, so the man clearly known his government slush funds.
As I note in Shea’s article — see, this has been one of those weeks where I don’t even find time to cite article that I’m quoted in — the main benefit of state ownership to Ilitch would be that he’d presumably be freed from paying property taxes on the project, which could amount to a rather large subsidy. Add in the $150 million or so (actually probably more like “or so,” since the $12.8 million a year approved in December should go farther than that at current interest rates) in public funds that Ilitch already has his eye on, plus any other public moneys that could later be added, and we could easily be looking at half or more of this arena project being paid for by taxpayers.
Of course, it’s important to remember that this is just a proposal, and could be rejected by the state. (Though the state hasn’t exactly shown itself eager to drive a hard bargain with Ilitch.) In any case, it certainly shows us Ilitch’s thinking: Piece together as many obscure subsidies as you can, in order to leave yourself with as little to pay out of your own pocket as possible. It’s how he got Comerica Park built for the Tigers, so why mess with success?