Detroit’s history of dealing with abandoned buildings is long and sad.
Most vacant structures sit for years, slowly metastasizing, befouling their blocks, attracting children, drug users, squatters, scrappers, taggers and criminals. The houses and building often burst into flames, further degrading their surroundings.
Other than crime, abandoned property has for decades been one of Detroit residents’ chief grievances. Abandonment is both a result of the city’s residential and business flight, and a cause of additional departures.
That’s why what happened this week was so unusual, and even historic.
On Tuesday, the Michigan Strategic Fund acted boldly to ensure that one abandoned building won't be around long to harm its neighbors.
Yet that building isn't empty now.
The fund approved $6 million in taxpayer money to demolish the city-owned Joe Louis Arena after the Red Wings leave.
The need to demolish the downtown arena is deemed so important that officials scrambled to set it in stone far in advance of the team's good-bye.
What's the hurry? The Wings are scheduled to play at Joe Louis for at least the next two seasons.
There's a reason, of course. Scheduling the tear-down of The Joe is part of the agreement between the city and the Ilitch organization, owner of the Wings, which does not want competition from the old arena after it builds its $650 million new arena on the northern edge of downtown.
The city also is interested in redeveloping the piece of riverfront land on which the arena sits, behind Cobo Center.
The pro-active strategy on Joe Louis comes, coincidentally, as numerous government agencies, private organizations and people -- including Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert -- are laying the groundwork for an all-out assault on Detroit’s abandoned property.
The anti-blight offensive is about 40 years overdue, but it appears to be a remarkably broad-based effort and fresh approach to a complicated and expensive problem that has long been ignored by most metro Detroit power players.
Most powerful suburbanites have always considered abandonment to be the city of Detroit’s headache, but city officials never had the money, management skill or outside help to do demolitions a timely way. Now Detroit is estimated to have an estimated 78,000 abandoned buildings.
The move to schedule the Joe Louis demolition wasn’t framed this week as part of the longstanding downtown vs. neighborhood debate. But the attention and money focused on a hockey arena leased by a powerful organization shows how, traditionally in Detroit, when downtown competes with neighborhoods, downtown almost always wins.