| DETROIT, July 29
DETROIT, July 29 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
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
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