Savior Complexities: Part 2 – Mike Ilitch and Olympia, What a Deal

By Kim Hunter

Billionaire Mike Ilitch’s deal to get public funds for his new Red Wing’s stadium and entertainment complex may not be as bad as it seems. Well, okay, every major study over the past 20 years has concluded that publicly funded stadiums are a rip off and yes, Ilitch will pocket 100 percent of the revenue for a complex built with 60 percent public funds. And, no, there is no legally binding agreement that ensures Ilitch’s Olympia Development of Michigan will abide by the promise to hire Detroiters even though there is one that stipulates Olympia will use the “publicly owned” facility rent free. That’s the bad news.

Ready for the good news? The only direct contribution the City of Detroit has made to the deal has been three-dozen parcels of land. It’s blighted so it’s not worth much, at least to a billionaire. But it can’t be denied that if you or I had made an offer to buy that much city-owned property, blighted or not, the price would not have been $1 as it was for Ilitch. Apparently, he qualifies for the billionaire discount.

Rather than working together with residents to rebuild their city and negotiate with the developer as Detroiters did when Whole Foods moved in, the Mayor and the Detroit Economic Development Corporation have allowed the likes of Ilitch, Matty Maroun and Dan Gilbert to assume their self-assured and media-backed roles as “saviors.” The lack of public input, benefits or scrutiny with the deals made for and by these billionaires is just the price we pay for being “saved.”

There is another way to do business. We could call on the collective vision, courage, tenacity and, yes, even the plain old snarkiness Detroiters continue to use to surmount challenges. That’s what the proposed Community Benefits Ordinance is about.

People like the low-income renters who will be summarily ejected by such giant projects would be at the table to protect their livilihoods. There may even be Detroiters who object to giving away land to people who can more than afford to pay for it. But as the old joke goes, we’ve got to be at the table to keep from being on the menu.