HBO Sports examines undeveloped promises around Little Caesars Arena

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
Rising investment in city retail, office and residential developments will allow Olympia Development of Michigan to pay off early and refinance about $200 million in public bonds that helped construct Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, officials said Wednesday.

Detroit — As the Detroit Red Wings celebrate the return of Steve Yzerman, HBO is about to air what appears to be a critical look at the unfulfilled promises by the billionaire owners of the Red Wings to build five new neighborhoods around Little Caesars Arena

"They promised it as something that would trickle down to the neighborhoods. It hasn't trickled down," U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib says in a promotional clip released in advance of the "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel"  segment titled "Motown Blues." It premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday. 

"They" refers to the Ilitch family. Various members of the family own the Little Caesars pizza chain, Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, downtown Fox Theatre and MotorCity Casino Hotel.

A spokesman for the Ilitch organization declined comment Monday.

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. Various entities linked to the family own major chunks of the 50 blocks planned for development that is intended to create five new neighborhoods around the arena. That development plan is called The District Detroit. 

The piece "will examine 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," according to HBO. 

The clip released in advance of the show has an aerial shot of the mainly empty blocks around Little Caesars Arena, home of the Red Wings and Detroit Pistons. 

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 headquarters. But beyond Woodward,  there have been multiple delays in Ilitch plans to build new housing, retail, restaurants and businesses. 

What residents have gotten so far, many contend, has been traffic gridlock, 27 parking facilities — some taking up entire blocks — and fewer places to live.

So far, no new housing has been developed, and other development plans have not come to fruition.  The District Detroit plan was publicly launched in 2014. Little Caesars Arena opened in September 2017.

Francis Grunow is  among those interviewed. He is among the 15 residents on the Neighborhood Advisory Committee for the Arena District. They were appointed by Detroit City Council to be the voice of their neighborhood. The advisory committee has often expressed concerned of the lack of progress and the secretive nature of the Ilitch organization of its plans.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN