What’d I tell you?
Spokesmen for the Red Wings and Tigers both declined comment, not wanting to speculate in the immediate aftermath of the largest bankruptcy protection request in U.S. history.
But that $650 million arena planned for the Red Wings? That can still become a reality, according to Brian Holdwick, an executive vice president for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.
Plans for an 18,000-seat arena were announced by the team’s owners and local economic development officials last month, although the new proposal still needed to be approved by the City Council and a handful of state and local agencies. The Red Wings said there will be $367 million in private investment and $283 million in public funds in the complex, which would also include residential, retail and office space.
Spending that kind of money on an arena — in a city where bankruptcy could mean laying off employees and scaling back basic services — could draw some public resistance. Holdwick said funding for the project would come from tax increment dollars that can’t be used by the city’s general fund anyway, so it’s not necessarily a zero-sum game between building an arena and easing Detroit’s financial pain.
Holdwick says money for the arena would go back to the state if not used for development downtown.
“I think there’s a lot of reasons why the city should be supportive,” Holdwick said. “I can’t, obviously, predict what they’ll vote.”
That Associated Press story doesn’t spell it out, but the DEGC, for which Holdwick is vice-president, is the parent organization to the Downtown Development Authority, which is the agency that’s proposing to provide the Red Wings arena with $283 million in property tax funds. So this is, in essence, the DDA saying, “Bankruptcy, schmankruptcy, we’re still gonna build an arena unless somebody tells us to stop.”
As for that “arena money would go back to the state” if not used for downtown development, that’s a tad disingenuous. First off, there are plenty of other expenses that could be justified as downtown development — replacing those streetlights that the city can’t afford to, say, or even rescuing artworks at Detroit’s downtown art museum. But more to the point, the property-tax fund that the DDA wants to tap for the Red Wings was set up by the same state that appointed the emergency manager who is forcing Detroit to declare bankruptcy; so if the state government is really concerned about the city’s fiscal future and wants to reclaim that $283 million for more important uses, it has the power to do so. Though then it would admittedly have to face accusations of nixing Detroit’s girders of momentum.