In this week’s Forefront story I take a deep dive into Detroit’s new publicly financed arena for the Red Wings and explore the ways cities can regulate stadium deals in the future. How can we make sure lawmakers quit doling out lavish subsidies that line the pockets of wealthy sports owners?
The numbers in Detroit are stark, as the infographic above shows. The city is forking over $284.5 million through various tax capture schemes for the new $650 million arena and entertainment development. Meanwhile, the Detroit Public School district faces severe budget shortfalls and the city is watching its future play out in bankruptcy court.
The response since the article ran on Monday has been, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive. Some economists have made it their life’s work to expose stadia-as-economic-development for the fallacy it is, and a growing number of sports fans loathe these kinds of subsidies. But others — including a sports radio talk show host in my native Michigan who repeatedly called me a “jackass” on air — simply refuse to acknowledge that hockey fans buying nachos and paying $15 for parking 41 nights a year isn’t an engine of economic development.
“When it comes to sports, it’s like it’s a religion,” Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata told me. “They’re not going to abandon what they see as their religion. So it makes it a real challenge.”
For the record, I’m probably the biggest sports fan on Next City’s staff. I organize my vacations around the Detroit Tigers’ schedule. I took my parents and sister to see the Red Wings as a Christmas gift. I also understand that these deals are gross misuses of taxpayer dollars. Yet the refrain from critics of this week’s story has been that I don’t respect all the great things Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has done for Detroit.
I’ll leave that to Frank Rashid, a lifelong Detroiter and preservationist who founded the Tiger Stadium Fan Club in 1987 and has been a vocal critic of stadium subsidies in the Motor City. “It’s the absolute reverse,” he told me back in January. “Detroit has done great things for Mike Ilitch.”
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Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.