Detroit’s current financial situation is infamous. With a bankrupt government, a stalling economy, and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, the city is under control of a governor-appointed emergency manager. Clearly, the city budget is in need of stringent reorganization to escape these circumstances and help the city onto a sustainable economic path. In a curious and insulting move, Detroit has chosen to use precious state funding to finance a new, $444 million hockey arena.
While Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, claims that the project is “part of the economic development … If it is as productive as it's supposed to be, that's going to be a boon to the city," its real benefits will likely be tepid at best. Even if there are vast benefits from the investment, the ramifications of cutting spending elsewhere to fund it will outweigh its profits. And any profits that are made will not come soon enough to assuage the dire economic hardships that Detroit and its citizens are facing today.
Because of spending cuts and layoffs in the Detroit Police Department, officers take an average of one hour to respond to a situation. Needless to say, the city’s safety isn’t enhanced by the fact that 40% of its streetlights have been shut down indefinitely.
When a family files for bankruptcy, they are required to assess necessities — such as health and safety — and cut back on all else that cannot be fit into a prudent budget. In moving forward with the new arena’s construction, Detroit is doing just the opposite. Their course of action is akin to a family cutting back on food and medicine and education so that they might move into a newer, larger house in hopes that the mortgage market will turn around and they’ll one day be able to sell it for a profit.
It is as ineffectual a move as it is insulting to the taxpayers who will bear the brunt of the $444 million, many of whom will not reap any benefits from the new arena.
The leading Democrat in the Michigan State Senate has been an overt opponent of continuing the project. She notes pragmatically: "If you want people to live in the city, and not just visit to go to games, you have to invest in schools, in having the police to respond to calls. There are so many investments that should trump a sports stadium."
A beautiful, state-of-the-art hockey arena is a luxury, and one that ought not be financed by a bankrupt city. There is a time and a place for such a purpose — now is neither the time nor the place.