The Hollow Empire


(An image of the shutdown Packard Plant, located in Detroit.  Picture used from Canadian Business and Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre)

We always seem to be the “comeback” city, never the city that made it back

In recent years, Detroit has been known as the “comeback city”.  Maybe it’s the heroics Matthew Stafford pulls to bring the Detroit Lions (some) victories, or maybe it’s the mentality we got from the auto industry surviving the 2008 recession, or maybe it’s some ineffable feeling that resonates throughout the citizens of Detroit.  Regardless of the answer, we seem to always be the “comeback” city, never the city that made it back.  It’s easier as a society to pretend things are going good than face the problems after all.


We can look back to the 1967 rebellion, and see that the city is still not in a good place.  I plan to focus on the fallacy of how building sports arenas are good for the city, specifically the new Little Caesars Arena and the proposed venue for a Men’s League Soccer Team.

“If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of 1 percent,” (Michael Leeds, a sports economist at Temple University). Next year, the Pistons and Red Wings will be playing in downtown Detroit, which is set to become the only city in the United States where all four major sports teams will play within a few blocks of each other.  This sound good on paper, and it’s easy to sell to the people.  It’s scary to citizens, though, because these sports arenas are not guaranteed to last.

“If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of 1 percent”


Look no further than the Pontiac Silverdome, a sports arena that has long since been abandoned and it’s still not demolished, and the Palace even saw renovations a few years ago, just to be abandoned by its team.  According to Roger Noll, an economist at Stanford, “the cities of Oakland and St. Louis are still making substantial annual payments on the debts that remain for now-obsolete stadiums that were built to lure the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams away from Los Angeles in the 1990s.”


(Photo of the Pontiac Silverdome, abandoned)


The thing about sports arenas are that they usually involve some sort of funding from the local taxpayers, the argument being made that this stadium will provide employment and largely benefit the city.  Noll says that in most cases, though, the owners of the stadium can afford these arenas without taxpayers help, but it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the business.

These sports arenas constantly leverage the people of the city and only make the rich richer.  While sports fans around the state celebrate new arenas, the people, and businesses around them suffer.  The Little Caesars Arena will only keep this city in the “comeback purgatory” and do little to bolster the economy.  The Illitch family and Tom Gores will continue to prosper, while the people surrounding the stadiums slowly move away, adding to more vacant homes in the city of Detroit.

Podcast that goes with this project:



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