Newspaper sends reporter to look at Detroit’s arena district renaissance, finds mostly vacant lots

Hey, remember how the Detroit Free Press reported the week before last that the new Red Wings and Pistons arena had turned its neighborhood into “a dynamic, connected stretch that has grown and attracted new businesses and investment with the promise of much more to come”? Well, the Guardian actually sent a reporter to look at the arena district, and found that the reality doesn’t match up with the press release:

There are few places to live in the District, and little to eat. Vacant, decaying buildings make up entire city blocks. There are almost no lights, save for those illuminating surface lots and parking garages.

Okay, then! But what do Detroiters themselves think?

Sean Swierkosz, general manager of the longstanding sports bar Harry’s, watched the Ilitches make progress, “but then it stalled”, he said. “I feel like I’m looking over the fence at my neighbor’s yard at his half-finished project or garage.”

Sure, but, you know, it’s Detroit, right? Isn’t a half-finished project better than none?

Notably, the landscape looks much different just a few blocks across The District’s borders, where Detroit’s neighborhoods are alive with redevelopment. Lofts list for as much as $650,000, and large residential projects are under way in the adjacent historic Brush Park neighborhood. Further up Cass Avenue, new restaurants, bars, and shops flourish on streets resembling the Ilitches’ banners’ renderings.

Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson remarks that while it’s common for sports venues to have little or no impact on their surrounding neighborhoods, “it is extremely rare to see a stadium cause a neighborhood to go backwards.” But then, it’s also extremely rare for a new arena to replace all its seats just one year after it opened because the original ones made it too obvious when nobody was sitting in them.

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6 comments on “Newspaper sends reporter to look at Detroit’s arena district renaissance, finds mostly vacant lots

  1. Let us not forget that the Illich’s are also fighting local bars –

    “At issue is whether the arena owners/Olympia Entertainment/Ilitch family have the right to close certain streets before/during games at the arena. According to the bar owner, the arena owners are trying to push him out of the location by continuing to put up barricades that keep customers from getting to the bar.”

  2. The writer just inadvertently described Sacramento. I think about 3 restaurants have benefited from Golden 1, and the rest have gone backwards.

  3. I think the Free Press just up and printing the press release actually says a lot about the stadium location. It’s not anywhere that reporters want to go so they didn’t even bother checking it out. You can almost here them in the staff meeting “I’m not going down there. YOU check it out if you’re so curious.”

  4. Here is a Google Maps link to show all areas affected.

  5. I went to the arena three times last year–two times Pistons, once Wings, and all free tickets. And yes, if there’s a surge of development around the place I missed it entirely. For that matter, Neil, you are probably familiar with the land deals that basically gave a lot to the Illitches for no actual payment.

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