Red Wings Unveil New Arena with a Taxpayer Assist

Red Wings Unveil New Arena with a Taxpayer Assist

Detroit needs an assist. In exchange for several hundred million dollars, the Red Wings promise to give them one.

The Ilitch family owning the Detroit Red Wings and Joe Louis Arena (and Little Caesar’s) unveiled plans for a new arena to house the hockey team in Hockeytown. The venue will seat 20,000 for hockey games. Construction crews break ground on the unnamed building this fall. They plan to open the arena in 2017.

The city sold 39 parcels of land to the billionaire owners of the Red Wings for $1, which struck some locals as below fair-market value even by Detroit standards. The city retains ownership of the building. But the Red Wings get to play there rent free and own the profits from corporate naming rights, which kind of defeats the purpose of owning the property. The Ilitches boast of putting $200 million into the new arena, which, to be fair, is about $200 million more than the Red Wings put into their current city-owned home. The family’s Olympia Development will reportedly bear 42 percent of the costs, with the city eventually paying off the rest of the funds coming from state-issued bonds. It’s not like Detroit’s police department or schools really need the money anyhow.

The artist’s rendition of the structure depicts a roof lighted bright red and featuring the team’s insignia but, significantly, no piles of uncollected trash, no pedestrians confused by the fancy college words used on street signs, and no shanking victim bleeding out while waiting over an hour for the 911 call to yield a response. It’s the artist’s vision of the future, so who can really say whether or not Detroit will look like Tomorrowland in 2017? In 1960, could Detroit’s denizens have imagined that America’s richest big city would become its poorest a half-century later?  

The Ilitch family promises that the project will bring 1,100 permanent jobs, an economic impact of $1.8 billion, and “walkable, livable”–important adjectives in Motown–neighborhoods connecting the hockey arena with other Ilitch family properties, such as Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre, and Motor City Casino.

“The expanded vision for this important project will immediately begin building on the success of other investments along Woodward Avenue,” Governor Rick Snyder declared in a prepared statement. “This is a powerful example of how public-private partnerships have multiplier effects that benefit the city, the region and the state.”

The Ilitches invest in Detroit. Detroit invests in them, too.