Hey, it turns out the Detroit city council actually still gets to do stuff, even if its control of the city purse strings has been usurped by a state-appointed emergency manager. Yesterday the council held a public hearing on the $450 million Detroit Red Wings arena project that would get $261.5 million in city development subsidies, and public reaction, according to the Detroit Free Press, was “mixed”:
“Right now we’re in a bankruptcy,” said resident Joann Jackson, who opposes the arena deal. “I feel that there will not be any jobs. You all have said that about the casinos. You all have said that about the ballparks,” yet unemployment in Detroit remains high, she said.
Joel Landy, who owns more than 50 residential and commercial properties north of I-75, said the project should start without delay.
“We couldn’t fill this hole in for another 20 years,” he said. “However, we have to fund it. It’s important to our success.”
Tom Stevens, a member of the group Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, said he opposes taxpayer support for the project, saying the economic spin-off benefits of sports arenas are not proven and any proposal that relies heavily on public financing “should be greeted with a great deal of public skepticism.”
He said that even with Detroit under control of an emergency manager, “What this shows is nothing has changed. It’s about public money for connected insiders.”
The Freep also quoted another downtown property owner who declared, “This whole thing is a sham” (he also criticized the Red Wings development site alongside two highways as being a place where suburbanites can “come into the compound, you can get out, and you don’t have to rub elbows with Detroit”) and a retired teacher who said the project would create jobs and said, “Let’s get it on.” But given that pretty much every council hearing ever has featured at least some people testifying on both sides, it’s tough to tell what the overall tenor was of the public comments.
The council also does apparently have some say in this matter, since even though it doesn’t have to approve the money, it does have to approve a new lease (or rather a “concessions-management agreement”) with the Red Wings before the project can go ahead. Again reading from the Freep, it sounds like councilmembers’ main concern is that Detroit will be compensated for any city land that’s used in the project, which shouldn’t be too high a hurdle. But at least it’s nice that Michigan hasn’t totally disenfrachised Detroit voters — just mostly.