Detroit’s “renaissance” has enriched its billionaire sports owners while rest of city suffers

If you want a depressing read about the impact of Dan Gilbert, the billionaire Quicken Loans baron, Cleveland Cavaliers owner, and would-be Detroit MLS owner, on his hometown of Detroit, there’s a great one by Shikha Dalmia in The Week. Among the highlights:

  • Gilbert is pushing for the state legislature to approve a super-TIF bill that would kick back property, sales, and income taxes from environmentally contaminated “brownfields” sites to help pay for the project. It would only apply to projects costing over $500 million in cities of more than 600,000, so the only eligible developer is Gilbert, who is proposing a giant project on the former site of the Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit.
  • Gilbert got $50 million in tax breaks to move his Quicken headquarters from the suburbs to Detroit.
  • He and his partner, Pistons owner Tom Gores, are seeking $300 million in cash and land in exchange for building a new soccer complex on a half-finished jail site (and a new jail elsewhere).
  • Detroit is about to open a new $187.3 million light rail system that will link “Detroit’s downtown, dubbed Gilbertville because it houses the Quicken office and other buildings where Gilbert’s employees live, with the midtown area, where the entertainment district [built by Gilbert’s fellow sports billionaire, the late Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch] is. Never mind that Detroit’s jobless and carless residents would have much more use for bus lines transporting them to jobs outside the city.”

Okay, maybe it’s a high price to pay, but at least Detroit is finally undergoing a long-awaited renaissance as a result, right? Well, actually:

The whole argument for pouring taxpayer dollars into this area is that its growth will spill over to the rest of the city, opening up jobs and business opportunities for all Detroiters. But research by Michigan State University’s Laura Reese and Wayne State University’s Gary Sands published earlier this year suggests that on virtually every metric, life outside the targeted zone is worse than it was even in 2010, when the alleged renaissance began.

Detroit’s overall population actually declined by 2.6 percent between 2010 and 2014. The unemployment rate among Detroiters increased by 2.4 percentage points between 2010 and 2013. This may have been because of the bankruptcy-induced layoffs of city employees, but Sands maintains that the trends don’t seem to have changed much in 2015. “About half of the neighborhoods in the periphery saw employment and payroll declines,” he notes. What’s more, although the overall number of Detroit businesses remained unchanged between 2014 and 2015, 13 of the more peripheral city zipcodes saw a decline.

In other words, far from the city core leading a comeback, it is at best siphoning — and at worst destroying — business and employment in the rest of Detroit, perhaps because smaller enterprises are having trouble competing with powerful billionaires who can dip into taxpayer pockets and divert other public resources toward their grand designs.

The whole thing is a terrific read, if you like to be depressed about how our cities are increasingly being run as engines for boosting the profits of their richest citizens. But you almost certainly do, since you read this website, so by all means go check it out.

New stadiums are falling apart too, nobody’s calling for them to be replaced (yet)

So a bolt fell off the retractable roof of the Indianapolis Colts‘ Lucas Oil Stadium last night and hit a woman in the head. This came just two years after a railing collapsed at the same stadium, and just a little over a week after a piece of concrete fell in a concourse at the Detroit Tigers‘ Comerica Park.

Now, it’s important to understand that this stuff happens, though obviously it’s not ideal. When it happens at older stadiums, though, it’s taken as a sign that they’re dangerously outmoded and in need of replacement — recall both the falling expansion joint incident that helped launch Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for a new Yankees stadium and the falling Wrigley Field concrete that began talk about replacing or renovating the Cubs‘ home field. When it’s a newer stadium, though — Lucas Oil Stadium stadium opened in 2008, and Comerica in 2000 — it’s just an unfortunate mishap.

Of course, given recent trends in stadium lifespans, it’s probably not all that early for the Tigers to start talking about needing another new stadium to replace Comerica. Anybody spotted Mike Ilitch returning a blowtorch and hacksaw?

Ilitch throws hat in ring to buy Pistons

Other shoe: dropped.

Sports and pizza boss Michael Ilitch said today he wants to buy the Detroit Pistons and move the team to a new arena in downtown Detroit.

The Ilitch family already owns the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings.

The Ilitch bid is for the entire Palace Sports & Entertainment organization, not just for the basketball team itself. If successful, that means that the Ilitches would also own the Palace of Auburn Hills arena, the DTE Energy Music Theatre and other aspects of the Palace network.

You’ll recall that the big question about this plan, which was originally floated about a month ago, was whether giving monopoly control over sports and concerts in the Detroit area would really generate enough money to pay for a new Detroit arena. Still nothing on that in today’s coverage, though enough column-inches were spilled on it that there was room for worries that Bud Selig might thing Ilitch doesn’t love him anymore.