Little Caesars Arena’s funding mix not without critics

The Detroit News

While the Little Caesars Arena officially has opened near the Cass Corridor, its path to completion wasn’t without controversy over who should be footing its $862.9 million bill.

The sports-and-entertainment complex that’s home to the Red Wings and Pistons was built was a mix of private and taxpayer funding.

About 62 percent, or nearly $539 million of the project, is from private financing and the rest — $324 million overall — is government financed.

The facility was mostly funded through the Ilitch family of the Little Caesars Pizza chain and included taxpayer-backed construction bonds.

The Ilitch family, which owns the Red Wings and Olympia Development, quietly spent nearly $50 million buying up properties from dozens of private owners over 15 years to acquire what it needed for the arena, according to public records.

They spent millions more on dozens of properties in the District Detroit, a 50-block entertainment district designed to surround the arena complex.

The addition of the Pistons at the arena called for another $34.5 million earlier this year to help the basketball team move from the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The taxpayer-backed funding for the deal sparked controversy and legal action.

After Detroit’s City Council approved the additional funding in June, community activist Robert Davis and Detroit resident D. Etta Wilcoxon filed a lawsuit to block taxpayer aid for the basketball and hockey arena. The pair wanted the matter placed before voters in November.

The two argued the tax revenues are intended for public school students and Wayne County parks.

In July, a federal judge ruled the plaintiff’s lacked standing to challenge the tax increment financing plan.

The Michigan Strategic Fund, an arm of the public-private Michigan Economic Development Corp., granted $250 million in tax-exempt bonds in 2014 for the construction of the arena.

The Detroit Downtown Development Authority used $284.5 million in school property taxes captured from within its downtown district to support part of the bonds.

In May, the strategic fund board approved the DDA’s request to issue up to another $36 million in tax-exempt increment revenue bonds to fund construction improvements and related costs to account for the basketball team.

It also set a ceiling of $310 million for the issuance of bonds, saying the DDA will need more prior to Jan. 1, 2019, to refinance outstanding debt from the 2014 bonds.

The Ilitch family will privately finance the rest of the project, which will include restaurants, shops and housing.