May 27, 2019
Resident activists from the 50-block area of Detroit known as “The District Detroit” spoke out about broken promises for “development” of the district by the family of the late Mike Ilitch. The Ilitch family are the owners of Little Caesars pizza, the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. In 2014, the city of Detroit and the State of Michigan awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to the Ilitch family enterprise for the construction of Little Caesars Arena (LCA), for the Red Wings to play hockey in.
At the time the city announced awarding the money for the LCA construction, in order to win support from residents of Detroit, the website for “District Detroit” carried attractive artist renderings of developments the Ilitches promised to put up to benefit the community. They referred to five new neighborhoods with names like “Cass Park Village” and “Wildcat Corner,” complete with outdoor cafes and small shops. They predicted 184 new apartments would be available by the time the LCA opened.
None of these developments have actually been built.
In May 2017 the Ilitch organization did announce plans for development of the old Eddystone Hotel, the United Artists building and four other vacant buildings that would create 686 residential units. Two years later, that construction has barely begun.
The Ilitches currently control 24 vacant buildings and 46 vacant lots. Residents of the district complain the Ilitches basically act as absentee landlords. The Ilitch group, for example, bought up three apartment buildings on Henry Street, where low-income residents for years paid $300-$400 a month in rent with no lease. Shortly after the Ilitch group purchased the buildings, one building was permanently closed after a roof partially collapsed. The city has also issued nearly two dozen blight violations on the two others for things like rodent infestations, failure to inspect for lead paint and other dangerous conditions.
Residents of the area and others around the city fail to see much benefit from all the parking lots and garages and see it as a benefit to others outside the city.
“The walkable neighborhood with active restaurants and retail around the arena with year-round activities has not materialized because (the Ilitch organization) doesn’t want it to,” Richard Etue, a member of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee recently said. The city set up the committee at the time the deal was announced, supposedly to give residents some say in the direction of the district’s development.
It’s clear that all the promises made to the public to win support for handing hundreds of millions of dollars to a family of billionaires were just lies. It’s just one more example of how things work under capitalism.