Here’s a humdinger: despite everything that’s happened, Detroit is still going ahead with its plan to build a $450 million taxpayer-funded sports arena. One might might think that the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in US history might put Detroit’s leaders into a period of modesty and introspection.
One would be wrong. CNN reports that even Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and emergency manager Kevyn Orr support sticking with the city legislature’s December vote to build a half billion-dollar hockey stadium:
“I know there’s a lot of emotional concern about should we be spending the money,” said Orr. “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.” […]
“The problem behind the financial issues of Detroit has been a flight of capital to the suburban areas,” [Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan professor] said. “We have to bring foot traffic and investment back to Detroit. This is exactly what it needs.”
Far be it from us to recall any instance in which a city government decided to live a little by using taxpayer funds for “job-creating,” “revenue-generating,” white elephant construction projects that in the end saddled taxpayers with decades of debt (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). According to CNN, Michigan taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly two-thirds of the arena’s bill. With interest, that’s a projected $444 million in taxpayer funds over the next thirty years. And if you believe the initial cost projection won’t slowly balloon over the next several years, we’ve got a monorail to sell you.
Remember that this is the same city that can’t afford streetlights, an adequate police force, or education system to give its children a decent shot in life. The bare minimum of social services required to make Detroit anything resembling a functioning society aren’t being provided right now. A plan to bill taxpayers for hundreds of millions to build a dubious city pride project, even while the pension and health care packages promised to many of them are being gutted, deserves a second vote at minimum.
A fancy new stadium will bestow lots of prestige and publicity on public officials and make their friends in the construction unions very happy. But the citizens of Detroit should demand that their officials reconsider. One Democratic leader in the Michigan Senate gave some reason for hope: “If the vote was held today, since the bankruptcy, I wouldn’t put my money on it passing.”
[Image of sports arena courtesy of Shutterstock]