Ben Duell Fraser: An Offer They Can Refuse: City Council Must Lead on the Arena Deal

April 14, 2015, 5:14 PM by  Ben Duell Fraser

UPDATE 4-14-2014, 9:40 PM:

The Free Press's editorial board has issued an opinion that disagrees with the central points of the column that their writer, Tom Walsh, published on Tuesday.

Original Column:


In a column in Tuesday's Freep, Tom Walsh all but yells out “Hurry up or the stadium gets it!” to the residents, businesses, guests, casual observers, and elected officials of the city of Detroit.

He tells us the council “kicked an important can down the road” by not burning the rubber on their stamps and rezoning the stadium area so that permits can be pulled, construction can be started, and the Red Wings can finally be free of the trash-heap that is Joe Louis Arena when the 2017 hockey season rolls around.

But if there is a can being kicked, why is it that people assume the city council is doing the kicking? The $450 million stadium, which is 58% publicly funded, and the $200 million surrounding district, come with strings attached. You want less strings? Maybe ask for a couple hundred million less tax dollars for your private business endeavor. Ahhh, screw that. Even then we get a say in the zoning, economy, and historicity of this town.

But the council doesn’t have what it wants, (rezoning agreements in writing), so the developers don’t have what they want, (a yes vote on the rezoning).

What’s the Big Deal?

At issue are a couple of historic hotels that currently stand in middle of the planned district. The Hotel Eddystone is to be rehabbed into mixed-income housing. The Hotel Park Avenue is likely to be demolished, because the NHL prefers teams to follow a Department of Homeland Security recommendation that new stadiums aren’t within terrorist-slingshot range of tall buildings that can be used to lob scary stuff (like Don Cherry) at fans.

Council wants the Hotel Eddystone’s redevelopment plans approved by the Historic District Commission as a show of seriousness, which could cause delays. Olympia Development of Michigan doesn't want to wait for approval, and wants the mere application to the HDC to suffice, along with a pinky swear. 

The council also wants to make sure that Detroiters receive some of the jobs that are a big reason this project is being funded with tax dollars. 

I'm pro-jobs, development, business, civic agility, all that good stuff. But even after noting that there are “lots of historic reasons for mistrust between private developers, past mayors and city councils”, Tom Walsh is basically asking Detroit to trust Olympia Development of Michigan on a huge project without protecting ourselves and getting written guarantees. It’s like Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify”.

A History of Crappy Leadership, Therefore . . .?

Detroit, the region, and the state have had good projects wither on the vine due to a variety of mistakes and missteps.  And anyone from Detroit whose glasses aren't completely rose-colored knows we’ve had our share of city legislators who were corrupt, incompetent, and had motives that were ulterior to running the city well. Off the top of my head, one flipped votes after receiving bribes, one was elected by riding her own famous coattails and seemed disinterested in the tough business of running this town, and several have made their political hay by railing against the suburbs or Lansing or business or white people.

But the answer to bad governance isn’t laissez faire governance; it’s good governance. If we didn’t want a city council with the power to use the good brains that evolution gave us, or the power that we legally bestowed upon them, we should have voted on a different city charter in 2011... perhaps one where billionaires can constitutionally do whatever the hell they want, as long as they promise to play nice.

It's not like the Olympia is building a hot dog stand, and hopes to build 500 of them eventually, and if the first couple of them don't pan out we can negotiate harder on the next 498. This project will help shape the direction the city takes. This council will shape the direction that future councils take. Let's get it right.

Despite how upset Olympia Development will be at Ben Duell Fraser if they happen to read this column, he will still be tweeting about his beloved Red Wings @BDCanuck as they upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. 

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Photo Of The Day 

Potd__mg_9613-2_155 Metal sculpture in the Hart Plaza Civic Center, Detroit

By: Michael Lucido