By Denzel McCampbell
Mentioning football and Detroit in the same sentence usually means you’re talking about the Detroit Lions. However, Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and the owner of Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert would like to change that. In April, they announced plans to bring a Major League Soccer (MLS) team to the city of Detroit.
FYI: The area does have a semi-professional soccer team, Detroit City Football Club, which successfully raised over $740,000 from fans, businesses and investors to renovate their new home, Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck.
The rollout of the plan had all of the bells and whistles; the MLS Commissioner was in town, joined by executives from the Pistons’ organization, Gilbert’s holding company, Rock Ventures, and Gilbert himself. They announced a $1 billion investment for a site that they had selected to build the brand new soccer stadium – the site of the unfinished Wayne County jail on Gratiot Avenue at the edge of Downtown Detroit. Here’s the thing – there’s little indication that Wayne County officials are onboard with the plan.
The groundbreaking of the jail occurred in 2011. Fast forward to April 2016 — and past a host of lawsuits, allegations of misconduct, more than $150 million, and a new Wayne County Executive — the jail still remains a skeleton that sits only a few blocks from Ford Field, Comerica Park, and Detroit’s music and entertainment district.
Most folks will say that this new proposal by Gilbert, Gores, and company is a way out for the county and will get rid of the jail problem, but not so fast. New Wayne County Executive Warren Evans is committed to finishing the jail in its current location. Though proponents of the soccer stadium suggest moving the jail to the east side of Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press, some sources say that could cost more than $500 million. Where’s that money going to come from?
At this point the proposal for the soccer stadium is just that…a proposal. Elected officials aren’t sold on it and the only thing Gilbert has is a stadium rendering with very few black folks in it and an elaborate PR project.
These reservations by elected officials beg the question: if this proposal moves forward what will it cost our community?
Wayne County taxpayers are on the hook for more than $150 million for the jail and the construction (or lack thereof) is financed by bonds that cost us about $1.2 million per month to service. One of the reasons why County Executive Evans is supportive of restarting the construction is because he claims it is the most cost-efficient option. However, in Stephen Henderson’s Free Press piece, he cites sources that say it will cost an additional $175 million to finish the jail. $325 million for a jail?! Evans has a background in law enforcement and while he may think the jail is needed and that this is the most cost-effective option in completing the project, this view fails to consider the overall cost of spending well over a quarter of a billion dollars on a jail in a resource-strapped county and city.
The truth is that this money should have been invested in services to assist the community with programs to help curb the amount of people being incarcerated in Detroit instead of spending money as a reaction to crime.
Investing in programs that give young people more than, “Just something to do.” Activities to participate in, love, and grow with such as art, music, and creative studies will allow young folks to be engaged fully in their communities. Using resources to identify and get rid of petty laws that create a cycle of incrimination that closes the door of many futures, especially in Black and Brown communities. We should use our resources to stop the school to prison pipeline and equip our schools to teach and develop children using skills that kids engage with as opposed to a one-size-fits-all system.
We have the opportunity to prioritize what our community needs and what our community should look like. Do we invest in more sports stadiums to continue to line the pockets of billionaires? Do we continue to spend money on jails to lock up generations or do we invest in our community to give Detroiters a better quality of life? We deserve a community where the future of every child is valued, and where our tax dollars fund the betterment of our people, not their punishment. We can do this, together with our elected officials, we can change the way we view our communities. It starts with communication; it’s time to build a vision together, with our neighbors, with our schoolteachers, with our elected officials, with everyone.