News

In cash-strapped Detroit, few question sports arena funding

In cash-strapped Detroit, few question sports arena funding

While Detroit has become a top emblem of urban economic decline, it remains a resilient and vibrant sports town. Photo: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) – While Detroit has become a top emblem of U.S. urban economic decline with its recent bankruptcy filing, it remains a resilient and vibrant sports town.

Major League Baseball’s Tigers and the National Football League’s Lions, like teams in other U.S. cities, have obtained public financing for new arenas, despite questions about their promised economic windfalls.

The Tigers’ home stadium Comerica Park, which opened in 2000, was built at a cost of $300 million, 38 percent of which was publicly financed. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who also owns the Red Wings, paid $185 million. Indian casino revenue and a voter-approved 2 percent rental car tax and 1 percent hotel tax paid the public’s share, according to the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University.

Ford Field, the Lions’ domed stadium, was built next door to Comerica and opened in 2002 at a cost of $430 million, 36 percent of which was publicly financed by the same Wayne County tourist tax and payments from the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan, and the quasi-public Downtown Development Authority. The Lions, owned by Henry Ford’s grandson William Clay Ford Sr., paid $70 million. There were also $50 million in other corporate contributions, the institute said.

And while area bars and restaurants are typically packed on game days, the neighborhood is a ghost town when neither team is playing. After the games, most fans go straight back to their homes in the suburbs.

Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College, compared the economic impact of a new stadium to that of a large grocery store or department store.

“As a general matter, stadiums and arenas basically reallocate geographically spending within a metropolitan area,” he said, adding that most of the money spent at sporting events goes to cover team costs like payroll. The Tigers, for instance, have the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, paying their players a combined $148 million.

Still, a state board recently approved issuing bonds to help pay for a new arena for the Red Wings at the heart of a proposed 45-block entertainment district just north of downtown.

The total project is slated to cost $650 million. About 44 percent of the project would be financed through public sources. Most of the public money will come through state property tax abatements on the now mostly vacant land where the arena will be built.

Despite such questionable economics, the project faced only modest local opposition.

Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic leader in the Michigan State Senate, said the state would be better off investing money in areas like public safety or schools.

“I think the best investment we can make as a state is to ensure that we have good schools, that we have public safety that will show up in a time of crisis, those are the types of things that really draw residents into the city of Detroit and I would say that’s the best type of investment we can make as a state if we want to get people living in the city,” Whitmer said.

Nonetheless, some still contend the costs are worth it for what a new stadium contributes to a city’s psyche.

“You can show me a spreadsheet, and I’ll still trump you because it’s the psychic benefit of having a sports club,” sports historian John Thorn said. “It separates a city from thinking of itself as big league or thinking of itself as bush league.”

Recent Headlines

in Entertainment

REVIEW: ‘St. Vincent’ shouldn’t work, but it does

This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Bill Murray, left, and Jaeden Lieberher in a scene from the film, "St. Vincent."

St. Vincent should be forgettable, yet it’s one of the more memorable and moving dramedies you’ll see this year.

in Entertainment

Today in entertainment history: Oct. 23

strait

A look at the Hollywood headlines that went down in history.

in Local Sports

Rookie Randle leads Lakers past Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts calls in a play against the Atlanta Hawks in the second half of their NBA basketball game Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Atlanta. Portland won 100-85.

Rookie Julius Randle scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter in the Los Angeles Lakers' 94-86 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

in Sports

AP source: Goodell told to testify in Rice appeal

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pauses as he speaks during a news conference Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in New York. Goodell says the NFL wants to implement new personal conduct policies by the Super Bowl. The league has faced increasing criticism that it has not acted quickly or emphatically enough concerning the domestic abuse cases. The commissioner reiterated that he botched the handling of the Ray Rice case.

A person familiar with the case has told The Associated Press that an arbiter has ruled that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should testify in Ray Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension.

in Sports

Royals beats Giants 7-2, even World Series 1-all

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014.

The Kansas City Royals beat the San Francisco Giants 7-2 Wednesday night to even the World Series at one game apiece.