While the state of Michigan appears to have no interest in “bailing out” Detroit, it is giving a substantial boost to the Red Wings, the city’s professional hockey team. Less than a week after Detroit filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in history, a press conference revealed a deal that will transform 45 blocks of the city with a new hockey arena (or “events center,” as the jargon goes) and a mixed-use entertainment district meant to link two of the city’s healthiest neighborhoods—downtown and midtown.
And the thing is, by the standards of a taxpayer sports arena ripoff goes this is one of the least unjustifiable ones. Illitch is no Jeffrey Loria — he invests in his teams and he’s not going to stuff the taxpayer money in his pockets and strip the team for parts, and he’s kicking in a fairly high share of this project. Public investment in an arena is marginally more justifiable in a situation like Detoit: while the entertainment revenue generated by the new arena is pretty much a zero-sum game as far as the metropolitan area is concerned, routing some money from the suburbs into the urban core is an actual value to the whole area. I can’t blame the city for taking the money, since it’s not as if the state will give them money to hire more cops instead. But even more someone who’s been a hockey fan for his entire living memory it still reflects a strange set of priorities.