Detroit Went Bankrupt, Heavy Investment In Sports Stadiums Did Little


Detroit declared bankruptcy yesterday. It’s not a surprise so much as the logical outcome of nearly 50 years of persistent decay. Detroit has not taken substantive measures to address seemingly intractable issues related to a decline of industry and a “white flight” that shattered property values and left it for many years the most segregated residential area in the country. The city has, however, tried just about every tawdry and temporary solution promising grand economic development (see: People Mover). One of the most notable has been new sports stadiums.

Comerica Park, with more than $100 million in public financing, opened in 2000. Ford Field, with more than $200 million in public financing, opened in 2002. These were sold as economic revitalization projects, that would lead to hotels and restaurants. How did that work out? Detroit just approved $283 million in public financing for a new Red Wings Arena, to revitalize lots adjacent to those stadiums on Woodward Ave. that sat undeveloped for more than a decade.

Well, not entirely undeveloped. The Tigers and Lions started charging to park there.

The city hosted the Super Bowl in 2006. A realistic assessment of how much this generated for Detroit’s economy is around $50 million, about 1/6 of what organizers projected and 1/4 of what the public spent on the stadium. Even that figure may be inflated, as it does not count for promotional costs, transferred spending or the amount of money that filtered out to companies not based in the city.

Detroit has also held the MLB All-Star Game (2005), Wrestlemania (2007) and the Final Four (2009). It has toasted college football teams in a bowl game since 1997. Depending on one’s perspective these were advertisements for the city, or rationalizations for never holding something there again. It is hard to see the Super Bowl or All-Star Game coming back, until taxpayers are again fleeced to build newer venues.

Another Wrestlemania may be in play for 2015 or 2016. A bid to land the X Games, founded by two white bros from Miami of Ohio selling Detroit’s “authentic grittiness,” failed. Detroit may be in play for a future Big Ten title game. A cold, early December evening. A half-full stadium. Jim Delany fumbling with a microphone over the PA. That would be something.

Detroit may no longer provide pensions or adequate municipal services. But it will have state of the art sports venues…for at least a few years…until some other city builds a cooler one.

[Photo via USA Today Sports]