I’m angered that Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, would approve the city’s plans to spend $400 million to build a new hockey arena when the city is broke and thousands of city workers are worried about receiving their hard-earned pensions.
It’s a tragedy that Orr – and Detroit’s city administrators – are gambling with the retirement funds for 10,000 city workers who have worked tirelessly for decades and could be left with nothing because the city recklessly filed bankruptcy.
Advocates of the arena say a new stadium for the Detroit Red Wings is the kind of economic development needed to turn Detroit around and attract private investors to a city in crisis.
“I know there’s a lot of emotional concern about should we be spending the money,” Orr told reporters. “But frankly that’s part of the economic development. We need jobs. If it is as productive as it’s supposed to be, that’s going to be a boon to the city.”
But critics say the project –and I agree – say Orr’s spending plan is misguided and the $400 million to build the arena won’t guarantee long-term jobs for those who need employment right now.
What Orr failed to mention is that it will take years to build a new hockey arena – a proposed facility where construction workers haven’t even broken ground – when Detroit residents need relief now.
Today, there are 80,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit – more uninhabited property than any urban city in America – police, on average, take an hour to respond to calls, and 40% percent of the city’s street lights are shut off because the city can’t afford to keep them on, and dozens of schools have closed.
“If you want people to live in the city, and not just visit to go to games, you have to invest in schools, in having the police to respond to calls,” Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic leader in the state senate, told reporters. “There are so many investments that should trump a sports stadium.”
When did a sports arena become more important than providing for the people of the Motor City?
Detroit is a city in crisis, a city that has been teetering on the brink of financial disaster for decades.
I was born in Detroit, I still love the city and I have fond memories of growing up in a place where Motown Records was established.
In April, as I drove past Motown Records which is now a world-renowned museum, I flashed back to the late 1960s where I grew up in Detroit with the children of Levi Stubbs, the charismatic lead singer of The Four Tops.
Stubbs’ study inside his home was adorned with awards and photographs on the walls with some of the world’s greatest entertainers. Raymond and I would often walk into the house on a break from biking to hear Stubbs taking a phone call from fellow Tops, or members of The Temptations, or perhaps even Motown founder Berry Gordy.
In a tight-knit black community of well-manicured lawns on the east side of town, Stubbs would sometimes step into the street and shout “Go Long!,” toss a perfectly tight spiral high into the air and wait for his son, Raymond, and I to rush down the block to catch a football from the legendary crooner, whose raspy, throaty voice and soulful interpretation of songs helped define and shape American music.
On hot summer nights with the windows open to circulate the hot air, I could often hear the soothing sounds of The Four Tops on the record player next door while his children sang the parts of background singers — hits like “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” and “Bernadette.”
And even though we were young, Stubbs made sure we saw The Four Tops perform when they played in Detroit at popular nightclubs like The 20 Grand, one of Detroit’s most prominent nightspots, where sensational Motown groups like The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, The Miracles and The Spinners would also appear.
That was a vibrant Detroit in the 1960s where downtown was bustling. Today, Woodward Avenue, one of the city’s most historic corridors, has lost its luster and boarded-up buildings stretch for blocks.
It will take years – and perhaps decades — for Detroit to return to its former glory, but for now, it seems blatantly irresponsible and borderline criminal that Orr would spend $400 million on a hockey arena instead of immediately investing in people who need jobs, kids who need schools and city workers who need their pensions.