Ilitch desperately trying to achieve more in Detroit before it’s too late

Owner Mike Ilitch raises the American League championship trophy in October after the Detroit Tigers won their second pennant in seven seasons.

On Tuesday in Lansing, Mike Ilitch submitted a plan to Michigan legislators that has been long in the making. Ilitch is proposing a venue in downtown Detroit that will serve as an entertainment complex, retail center, and home to his Red Wings. It’s the latest of many Ilitch big ideas, and maybe the last. At 83 years of age, Ilitch seesm to realize he has few years left to see a transformation of downtown Detroit.

But is it a good idea?

There are several ways to look at this, and the arguments are not hard to crystallize:

  • Ilitch has done great things for Detroit, developing the Fox Theatre, building a new baseball stadium, and luring businesses downtown.
  • If Ilitch wants a new venue for his hockey team, he should pay for it himself. The last thing Detroit needs is corporate welfare for billionaires, especially in these difficult times.
  • Jobs, jobs, jobs. According to Ilitch’s development group, more than 1,000 jobs and $200 million could be created by building a new arena/entertainment complex.
  • Bad timing, anyone? With the NHL lockout threatening to cancel the 2012-2013 season, shouldn’t the hockey team be on the ice before you start making plans to build them a new arena?

For certain, this issue will not suffer from a lack of debate. If there’s anything we know about politics in Detroit, it’s never simple or unstained.

But Ilitch knows this and that’s why he’s aggressively pursuing this dream now, as soon as possible. He’s also courting every ally he can find, locking up support inside the city and also in Lansing. He’s also continued to do a slow dance with Pistons owner Tom Gores, who has similar feelings about the city of Detroit. While Gores has a home for his basketball team, and has so far said he wants to keep them in The Palace of Auburn Hills, he must be noticing that the stands are very bare so far in this NBA season. A move downtown, joining the other three professional sports teams in Detroit, might prove to be a much needed shot in the arm for his rebuilding franchise.

Despite all of the allies Mr. I will surely have, he will also have his share of detractors. There are still some in this city who will never forgive him for abandoning Tiger Stadium. Some are jealous of his prosperity and see selfish intent in everything Ilitch does. Others don’t think Ilitch and his wife do nearly enough for the city, and will always find fault in any plan with his name on it.

At 83, Ilitch has shown that he’d rather spend his fortune while he’s around to see the fruits of it, rather than bequeath it to his heirs. Last winter he personally stepped in to woo Prince Fielder to the Tigers, inking the slugger to a $214 million deal. He’s similarly coaxed stars to the Red Wings with big contracts. The result has been four Stanley Cup titles for the Wings and three playoff appearances and two pennants for the Tigers.

“This city needs activity,” Ilitch said on Tuesday. “And there’s got to be some bold moves now, not just talk.”

Like him or hate him, Ilitch has made many bold moves during his professional career, and he knows he’s got precious little time to put his dreams for Detroit into action.

12 replies on “Ilitch desperately trying to achieve more in Detroit before it’s too late

  • J. Conrad Guest

    I remember my parents taking my sister and me to the very first Little Caesars, on Wayne Road in Westland, for pizza once a month. Although I can’t confirm it, I imagine it was Mike making the pies in the kitchen in those days.

    He has always seemed a paradox to me. He seems a humanitarian at times, does a lot of good things for the city of Detroit. But he also comes across as an entrepreneur to a fault, always looking for ways to make a buck, even selling ad space on the glass behind the goals at Joe Louis–digitally placed and changed at the end of each period.

    Some might applaud him, while others see him as greedy. Me? I’m not sure. No one can know what’s in a man’s heart.

    He’s thrown a lot money out there to bring a World Series championship to Detroit, and no one would like to see that more than I. On the other hand, if I think too much on it, he’s beginning to remind me of George Steinbrenner, and that’s not a good thing.

    As for the new entertainment complex he proposes, well, I can’t say if it’s a smart move. The city needs something, but is the timing right? The economic timing, that is, not Mr. Illitch’s.

  • Dan Holmes

    I don’t live in the city, so I can’t speak as well to the image of Ilitch there. I do agree that he is an enigmatic character.

    As for him “wanting to make a buck”, I think that’s what an entrepreneur is supposed to do, and criticize him if you will, but not too many other developers had the guts to sink so much money into downtown Detroit.

    Any check of photos from the 1910s will show signage all over ballparks, so I don;t have any troubles with modern team owners selling ad space wherever they wish. We tend to think there was a simpler, more honest, more innocent era in sports. There wasn’t.

  • Brad B.

    Mr. Ilitch is a saint, period. Naturally he needs to make a profit with his mega investments. After all this is an evil Top 2% person, he has & will continue to create many thousands of jobs, despite Obama’s desire to Spread the Wealth socialist agenda. Seems like he and every Entrepreneur does that daily in your fine city and across the country. Detroit is Very Lucky to have a this great man Sharing his Wealth.

  • Chuck Poulsen

    I live near Akron, Ohio which has Class AA professional baseball team that really helps the downtown businesses. I see the downtown is more alive as ever as before. As for City of Detroit, when it had Tiger Stadium back in early ’90’s I visited that ballpark every summer until the team moved to downtown. I was glad it had moved because that area near old Tiger Stadium was pretty unsafe and looked very depressing. I’m glad that city is making the progress and thank god for Illitch.

  • Dwight Koslowski

    J. Conrad Guest – You were close, but not quite. The first Little Caesars was, and still is, at 32594 Cherry Hill Road, in Garden City.

  • Peter Comstock Riley

    Dan, Ever since ILITCH came out of the pizza kitchen and revived the Fox Theatre, the media has portrayed him as a charritable promoter of restoring downtown Detroit… Fact is that he is a conduit for spending development money (mostly public funds) on sports and entertainment venues owned by him. The latest ruse is to buy him a new Hockey rink and surrounding business he can own. We don’t seem to avoid him, but we don”t have to applaud!

    • Dan Holmes

      Peter, Ilitch paid for 60% of Comerica Park. I am not defending the use of public funds on sports venues (studies have shown it’s a poor use of public money), but he did pony up quite a bit.

  • Ted S

    well peter as the saying go’s you can’t please every one but this man
    makes money yes and he is a business man that’s the way it is .
    if you don’t make money you can’t spend it and how ever he does it
    he is doing more for the city of detroit then their elected officials have ever done. every time he does something there he makes it look better and creates jobs so i will applaud him and his family.
    at least he is doing positive things with the money he makes like putting it back into city were he made it.

  • R Vogan

    Having moved from Detroit some 26 years ago I’ve continued to watch this once beautiful city struggle to survive and possibly thrive again. Corrupt government has hammered this movement. Mr. I continues to make efforts to truly renascence the city. Should he make money while creating jobs and economic stimulus? Yes, he should, that’s how our economic system works best.

  • Gary Steinke

    As far as no one going to the Palace its because the Pistons stink. If and when the Pistons start winning again the Palace will be sold out for every game, just as it did in the mid-2000’s. I say let the state help Illich out THIS TIME. He paid 60% of Comerica Park, how much did Bill Ford pony up for Ford Field? No where close to 60%.

  • otto

    Stadiums and sports complexes only contribute marginally to the long term growth of the middle class. It is largely part-time and seasonal workers who are employed at wages equal to that of the poor or working class. The construction of such a development does contribute a significant number of temporary high paying skills trades jobs. But those are mostly gone once the development is complete.

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