Risky Businessby John Brattain
June 23, 2006
Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.
How did Ezekiel know about politics in Detroit so long ago? The prostitute described here sounds like the politicos in Detroit, and the lucky john who gets paid to screw said hooker is Mike Ilitch.
Right now Tiger Stadium has been on death row, and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has unveiled the plan for the historic corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
Before we get into some of what’s going on, let’s do a little review of what we discussed last April 14:
Remember the All-Star Game in Detroit? The 950 seats added for the event were paid for in part by $400,000 in county money.
Detroit's economic development director Mulugetta Birru said: "Having 950 more seats brings more people to downtown to buy food and beverages and shop."
Two problems. One, the stadium had more than enough seating and two: What downtown? Woodward Avenue looks more like downtown Beirut and most of the economic activity going on there is probably illegal. Of course like any good servant Birru predicted that the new seats "would generate $1.3 million in spillover downtown spending during the week of the All Star Game."
For you math whizzes, the Detroit News pointed out "that amounts to $1,368 of spending per spectator." This is after they spring for the overpriced tickets and concessions. As Neil deMause pointed out wryly: "I'm also pretty sure that Detroit doesn't have a 30% sales tax, meaning the new tax revenues from even $1.3 million would amount to just a tiny fraction of the county's cost."
Riley proposed his company provide the maintenance and security at the stadium for one year, saving the city a few hundred thousand dollars. However Detroit has been paying Ilitch to do just that at a cost of about $420,000 per year. Ilitch has done such a fine job of this that when MLB had shown an interest in holding an All Star event at The Corner it was rejected because "the ballpark's interior is in disrepair."
So the city would rather pad Mike Ilitch’s wallet than have somebody with an interest in saving the park offer a bit of relief to a city in desperate need of cash. Adding to the sleaze is the fact that maintenance on the stadium had never been put to a bid. As a matter of fact, city officials have yet to produce any contract or agreement detailing the agreement with the Tigers, save “Mike Ilitch thy will be done.” In short it’s like the person put in charge of maintaining the life support of a wealthy patient is the primary beneficiary named in the will and that person never cared much for ol' granny…
So it’s time to kill the old lady off and dispose of the body. Ilitch won’t (obviously)—he’s trying to get his political servants to do it for him and take it out the pockets of the people, some of whom actually want to save The Corner. You see, in the final days of Tiger Stadium as home of the Tabbies, the city levied a ticket surcharge to finance the demolition of the ballpark. Instead, that money went back to Ilitch for “maintenance” (if you’re wondering about the air quotes check out Stranded At The Corner and see the value the politicos in Detroit derived from the money paid to Ilitch to look after the park), and now Ilitch has the money and the city is now obligated to find the necessary millions to finance the demolition of the stadium (estimated between $3-7 million).
The city denies arm-twisting from the Tigers. Detroit’s Planning and Development Director Henry Hagood says: “I never receive any calls from anybody connected with the Tigers organization … We don’t believe another ball club should go in there.” (italics mine)
Now getting back to the more recent news;
In its place, Kilpatrick envisions a ring of retail shops and residential housing surrounding the historic playing field, which will be preserved as a nonprofit park and ball diamond ... Any baseball that continues to be played on the site probably will be geared to the Little League level, Zeiler said. That will support the development of youth baseball and also respect the proximity of the new housing nearby.
"We're not going to have jocks in there on a Sunday night putting softballs through people's windows," he said. "It's very much geared to Little League and a community park."
Now earlier they said that they didn’t believe another ball club should go there, but they want to save the field portion for little league (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that). So baseball is OK there as far as the city is concerned, just as long as it’s not any kind of baseball that threatens Ilitch’s business interests.
Here’s what they envision for The Corner:
"We see it as a huge economic development tool for our neighborhood and for the city as a whole"
Fair enough, hence …
A lot of planning must take place before demolition actually can begin sometime this fall ... The city will pay for demolition, expected to cost about $3 million to $6 million.
So the execution date has been set to raze the site for new development. But guess what?
The overall plan remains a concept at this stage, with no final price tag and lots of details to be resolved. The city will put out bids soon to find development teams to build the residential and retail components.
Then developers will be sought to build three- to six-story mixed retail-residential projects surrounding the field.
The developers chosen to build the retail-residential projects would have to come up with the money to do so, broadly estimated at somewhere between $40 million and $70 million depending on how many units are built.
Get the implication? There are no developers that have pledged one thin dime to developing the site. This is the city’s plan—not any developer's.
As Neal Rubin pointed out:
"The city has yet to secure developers, however, and still must seek bids for the plan."
In other words: No financing. No contractor. Nothing but license to do what the city seems to have wanted since the Tigers moved in 1999—take batting practice on Tiger Stadium with wrecking balls.
Detroit has no shortage of areas that could be developed. It’s not like there’s a real estate shortage in Detroit or other buildings in desperate need of demolition. There isn't even a huge need for more retail or condominium space in the Corktown region itself.
A picture in the Detroit Free Press showed the lower deck stands with trees growing through cracks in the cement. Many have mentioned that the old ballpark is no longer salvageable due to its run down condition. Didn’t the city spend any money to keep the park up? Yup, they paid Mike Ilitch close to a half million bucks a year to maintain the yard. However that money has run out, so there’s no more money for Ilitch to make off of Tiger Stadium, so now he has to make sure nobody else can make any money from it—especially money that could potentially come out of his pocket.
So he’s contacted his whores in the mayor’s office to let them know that he has some needs he wants serviced. Like the prostitute mentioned in Ezekiel, they’re now getting ready to us $3-$6 million in taxpayer dollars for the privilege of protecting Ilitch’s business interests by knocking down a beloved landmark, one that many want to save and are even willing to put money on the table to do so.
The city has two choices: sell the land to somebody (thereby putting money in the public coffers) who wants to use the ballpark and save an historic building, or spend taxpayer dollars (thereby taking money out of the public coffers) to destroy a landmark with no guarantee of development after the deed is done.
Put another way: the city has to choose whether to do the bidding of the people they've pledged to serve—the ones who voted them into office—and protect their interests, or to play the whore to a businessman and use the public's money to finance their screwing from Ilitch.
Once again they've chosen to play the whore.
If you’ve ever spent any time in Detroit, you know darned well that there’s an excellent chance that The Corner won’t see any development after the stadium is demolished. However, it’s not about developing the tract of land (because they couldn’t even bother locating a developer before bringing the wrecking ball to bear on the park) it’s about getting rid of a building that could conceivably pose a threat to Ilitch’s bottom line.
That’s all this is about—getting rid of Tiger Stadium.
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.