By the Equitable Detroit Coalition
The Ilitches’ choice to open their brand new, highly subsidized sports and concert venue with a Kid Rock concert has generated a lot of anger and left many Detroiters feeling disrespected. But the Ilitches' disrespect for Detroiters began long before the first shovel hit the ground to build the new arena. It began with Olympia Development’s refusal of a real community benefits agreement that would have made them truly accountable to Detroiters whose money the developers were using for private profit.
For the grassroots and community groups that protested the concert, the corporation’s choice of Kid Rock as the arena’s inaugural concert was an offense, but their real goal was and is to strengthen the power of Detroiters versus the power of corporations that use Detroit’s money for private profit. We can begin to right this wrong in November when the current, so-called community benefits agreement, Proposal B, turns a year old. That’s when we can begin to shift the balance of power toward the people of Detroit. We can urge the Detroit City Council and Mayor to put teeth in Proposal B. When developers use public money, meetings with the people who have to live with the project should be mandatory. Agreements about community benefits should be legally binding as they are in the rest of the country.
The protest of the concert was certainly understandable. Kid Rock has vehemently and profanely attacked quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s support for the Movement for Black Lives. That, along with Kid Rock’s unwavering support of Trump, even after Trump’s equivocation about the “good people” with the Nazis and Klan at the fateful Charlottesville protest, nauseates those of us concerned about racial justice. Despite the fact that he dropped the Confederate flag years ago, Kid Rock is a living “monument” to the Confederacy.
But, the venue itself, the Little Caesars Arena is also a monument of disrespect. It shows what happens when public money is used to subsidize corporate profit with no public accountability and no legally binding agreements between the public and those using public money to become wealthier. Olympia Development refused a legally binding community benefits agreement, a common arrangement when corporate profits are had in part with public support.
Mayor Duggan sang the praises of Olympia Development in part because they promised that the work force that constructed the facility would consist of 51 percent Detroiters or it would pay a fine. It paid the fine and it wasn’t the first time. The Ilitch operation made similar agreements when Comerica Park was constructed and wound up paying the fine then as well.
But, what if the public money subsidy was endangered when the developers failed to meet the employment goals as part of legally binding agreement? In that case, a more serious effort would have been mounted to reach the stated goal of employing more Detroiters.
With more community input and buy-in, there would have been at least the possibility that the facility’s inaugural concert in the nation’s largest black municipality would not have featured someone who castigates the Movement for Black Lives.
The racial dynamics and disrespect pointed to those who rightly protested the concert come from a serious and unjust power imbalance between Detroit’s African American majority and overwhelming white corporate interests in Southeast Michigan. Those dynamics are nakedly on display in the relationship between Detroiters and the likes of the Ilitches.
Respect comes, in part, from having power. Come November, those of us who care about a deeper democracy and racial justice need to grasp the opportunity to move the city council and the mayor toward the power of real community benefits.
About the Equitable Detroit Coalition
The mission of the Equitable Detroit Coalition is to foster beneficial relationships between developers and the Detroit community by facilitating open and honest dialogue and to assist developers funded by public dollars to become corporate neighbors who are transparent in their relationship with the community. We believe that public investment entitles residents to be stakeholders.