Ilitch group pushes back on HBO report on arena development
Detroit — The billionaire owners of the Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesars Pizza are pushing back on an HBO sports show that was critical of the still-unfulfilled promises to build five new neighborhoods around Little Caesars Arena.
A segment that debuted Tuesday night on the "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" was billed by the cable channel as a look at "whether government officials in Michigan gave a sweetheart arena deal to the wealthy Ilitch family despite Detroit facing an $18 billion bankruptcy — the largest of any city in U.S. history."
Ilitch Holdings described the piece as inaccurate and sensationalized.
"It is unfortunate when a media outlet emphasizes the voices of the critical few and not the voices of many who would present the positive story that is taking place across our City, " said a statement attributed to Shawn Platt, Ilitch Holdings Inc. vice president of corporate communications. "The result was a self-interested, sensationalized and inaccurate report designed to attract viewers instead of a balanced report on the rebirth of Detroit and our contributions to City’s turn around."
A spokesman for the HBO investigative sports program says it worked on the segment for more than one year and the Ilitch group repeatedly declined to be interviewed.
"We stand by our reporting,” HBO said.
The arena is intended to be the catalyst for a development plan to overhaul 50 blocks. That plan, called The District Detroit, is being driven by the Ilitch organization. Entities linked to the Ilitch group control major portions of the 50 blocks planned for development.
The city-owned $863 million Little Caesars Arena was built with the help of $324 million in taxpayer money. The Ilitches paid for the rest of construction; its Olympia Entertainment arm manages the venue.
The Ilitch organization says it has invested $1.4 billion in office, retail and other developments in The District. Along Woodward near the arena, there's a new Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business and a new Little Caesars Pizza headquarters. But beyond Woodward, there have been multiple delays in Ilitch plans to build new housing, retail, restaurants and businesses.
Many residents contend that so far, the new arena has resulted in traffic gridlock, 27 parking facilities — some taking up entire blocks — and fewer places to live. The District Detroit plan was publicly launched in 2014. The arena opened in September 2017.
The Ilitch statement contends the HBO piece inaccurately reported the complex tax formula for the construction of the arena. The funds primarily came from money "from specific tax dollars allocated to fund a catalyst development project that would drive economic growth in the City of Detroit," according to the Iltich statement.