When the Ilitch family paraded images of bars, restaurants, apartments, condos, and an exciting walking district surrounding its new arena, I stood in front of the line with my hand raised in approval. District Detroit was coming.
And it would be grander and bolder than anything Dan Gilbert was doing a few blocks away.
The Ilitch family even built a display of how great District Detroit would be in an abandoned room inside Comerica Park. I wolfed down a few crab cakes and bacon-wrapped goodies during my tour.
I gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, not because of the crab cakes and bacon-wrapped goodies, but because this looked like the next great thing to grace Detroit.
Now I feel like a fool.
The Detroit Red Wings did not need a new arena. The rickety Joe Louis Arena was still functional. So was the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Pistons played. However, the Ilitch’s led us to believe that if we approved the Ilitch play toy, also known as LCA, we’d get 50 blocks of “Oh Yeah” that would connect downtown to Midtown.
Instead of “Oh yeah,” we get a lot of “Oh no” as the Tigers and Red Wings stumble through their fifth straight losing seasons. The only thing worse than the Tigers and Red Wings is District Detroit, a string of high-priced parking lots and abandoned buildings four years after Little Caesars Arena opened.
People in the community warned me this would happen. I did not listen. Instead, I believed the hype of a great connection in Detroit.
The District Detroit website claims $1.4 billion in investments.
Much of that money went into the LCA, which cost $863 million. Taxpayers chipped in more than $300 million with the understanding they were paying for much more than an arena.
District Detroit should’ve been our Wrigleyville or the Busch Stadium district in St. Louis that features bars, restaurants, and a St. Louis Cardinals Museum.
We get Harry’s Detroit, which was already there. And the Ilitch family wanted to buy it out so they could throw up their two-bit restaurant. We get the Mike Ilitch School of Business, Google, and lots and lots of parking lots.
Little Caesars is building its headquarters near the Fox Theater. But how does that help us? How does that add to our entertainment value?
There are townhouses across Woodward. Of course, they were already there long before LCA was a glimmer in Mike Ilitches’ eyes.
This area is hardly the walk-about district we envisioned.
Fifty blocks of entertainment, my ass––we barely have 50 yards to entertain us.
Here I go spending other people’s money. Fifty blocks is a lot to develop. But you can buy up land in Detroit pennies on the dollar. And the Ilitch family can hardly plead broke considering they recently purchased a half interest in a $2.4 billion failed New Jersey casino called Ocean from Luxor Capital Group. The property, which has filed for bankruptcy twice, features 20 acres of beach property, 138,000 square feet of gaming, and 1,300 hotel rooms.
If you can invest that kind of money in a flop of a casino hundreds of miles away, you can invest in the Tigers and Red Wings. You can invest in District Detroit. You can make your city better.