John Oliver challenges funding of new Red Wings arena

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — HBO comedy host John Oliver is poking fun at the growing number of elaborate — and largely taxpayer funded — stadium projects across the country, including the city's new Red Wings facility and surrounding 45-block entertainment district.

Oliver, host of "Last Week Tonight," focused his Sunday show on over-the-top party cabanas, indoor swimming pools and massive fish tanks filling stadiums from Dallas to Miami and what's planned for Detroit.

"America has a lot of them (stadiums) and they are increasingly fantastic," he said, adding most new stadiums look like "coked up Willy Wonka."

He further notes that "the problem is," the stadiums are expensive and the vast majority are built using public money.

"Sports teams are successful businesses with wealthy owners and yet they still get our help," he said.

Two years ago, Oliver noted in the show, Detroit got approval for $280 million in taxpayer funds for a new arena project for the Red Wings "just six days after the city filed for bankruptcy."

For the project, about $283 million in public investment will come through economic development money, requiring no new taxes.

"Even though the owner of the Red Wings is Mike Ilitch, the founder of the Little Caesar's Pizza chain," he said, noting Ilitch's empire is worth about $5.1 billion. "It's hard to swallow. Sure, not as hard to swallow as Little Caesars Crazy Bread, with an assortment of Caesar dips. But still pretty hard."

One analysis, he noted, showed that $12 billion was used on 51 facilities between 2000 and 2010.

Detroit's 20,000-seat state-of-the-art arena is slated to open in the summer of 2017. The new facility is expected to be the catalyst for 45 blocks of development that will bring hundreds of new residents, new retail and offices.