Ilitch’s Chinatown

February 14, 2014
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Lots of talk flying around the Metro Times newsroom this week about the stadium deal, which I’d heard about but actually not paid much attention to. We’ve been through this before, right? Ilitch wants something? The city will bend over backward to accommodate our local pizza caesar. He wants to leave a 30-year-old stadium for a new one? No problem, there must be a way to sweeten the deal for the billionaire with a few hundred million dollars of public money. And sports-mad, billionaire-worshipping Detroiters have absolutely no problem with that sort of thing, as we all learned 15 years ago when Ilitch got a similar subsidy for Comerica Park. I figure, hey, why get upset? As writer and academic Jerry Herron used to be fond of saying of Detroit, quoting the Roman Polanski movie about a wide-open town where the rich always get their way: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

With cynicism running this deep, it still felt decidedly weird around the office as the details of the stadium deal came into focus for us. Now, I already mistrusted Ilitch, seeing him as a pizza mogul who, once, 30 years ago, refurbished his flagship property. Since then, his actions have really taken the shine off that once-upbeat reputation. Ilitch is behind on his taxes, apparently prefers gravel lots to historic buildings, has seemingly let whole blocks fall apart while he builds his bigger plans to replace what’s there with his dream of a hockey stadium that he wants us all to pay for. Fine, whatever. Because Chinatown.

But when you hear that the funding mix for this guy adds up to be 58 percent publicly funded, you start to wonder if this is even off the charts for Chinatown. And then there’s another proposed land transfer, one the DDA is reportedly cool with: giving Ilitch the responsibility for driving development of former Detroit Economic Development Corporation-owned and city-owned properties on dozens of blocks of land between Foxtown and his wife Marian’s casino. That’s right: When developers are coveting a reinvigorated downtown Detroit, where occupancy is higher than 99 percent as of last summer (according to D:Hive), the DDA would give Ilitch the responsibility for driving development on a swath of properties around Cass Park. Jesus. Is there anything Ilitch has managed to develop without public money or free land? Maybe Hockeytown Cafe? This sort of thing makes us feel like we’re entering 19th century Robber Baron territory here.

So it’s not enough that the public has to pay our pepperoni pie croesus hundreds of millions of dollars again, now we’re talking about transferring some of the land that is poised for development over to the DDA so Ilitch can have that too? Will that big land deal also earn cash-poor Detroit another measly dollar?

Would this fly in any other major metropolitan city? Would any city other than, say, St. Louis, just brazenly lease some of the most valuable land, and give hundreds of millions of dollars, to an already fabulously wealthy person who will then charge people to park, eat and watch sports? Would any other city sweeten the deal by offering land on a path leading up a major road to another family-owned property, and do it in such a way where, since it’s under DDA control, no taxes need be paid to the city? Or are we misunderstanding something here?

We shouldn’t be quoting Chinatown. We should turn to over-the-top satirist Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Detroit film for the right quote: “I’d buy that for a dollar!”

"I'd buy THAT for a dollar!"

“I’d buy THAT for a dollar!”


  • Jason White

    Bixby Snyder. Renaissance Man.

  • Randy Burbach

    The only thing that makes that pile of rubble valuable is that it is where the arena is going to be. If there had been other development plans, that would be another story. NOBODY had any interest in it. That, Mr. Jackman, is the opposite of ” most valuable land.” And, yet again, you seem to have no concept of a) how large projects work and b) how tax increment financing works

  • Gerbils

    “Let them Eat….Pizza, Pizza!!!”

    The city is in it’s death throes so who cares about giving the Illitch Dynasty another piece of property?

    How many new business opportunities have been lost due to EPA and/or City requiring new tennants to pay for cleaning up pre-exisitng contaminated brownfield sites? The City and State should have worked together with Federal Level EPA to finance cleanup so we might have had a chance at luring some decent paying manufacturing jobs downtown…but NO!

    Why didn’t Maroun turn the Train Station into a Hotel/Casino complex when all the Casino building was going on?

    What middle-class family (Black, White, Green with Purple Spots) is going to relocate to Detroit and put their kids in it’s public school system?

    Drive around Dix, Vernor, Hareper, Gratiot, Fort Street, through DelRay, etc…and you’d think you walked on to the set for a modern remake of “The Omega Man”

    And finally, let’s all face the fact that half-time commericial spots are the only way the Ford Family is going to get a product in the SuperBowl.

    Glass Half-Full…

    Why doesn’t the city long tem lease Belle Isle to someone who will dump 250MM on a world class F1 Race Course, DSO bandshell on 40 acres for free summer concerts in the park, a place to watch hydroplane races, a place where families go to picnic and fish, Casino/Hotel complex, a REAL aquarium, rennovate the Yacht Club, etc…

    The only real bright spot I’ve heard is Chrysler (Fiat) investing in the Engine Plant