Finley: Holding Ilitches to promises 'not a priority,' Duggan says

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talks with the media Thursday at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island

Detroit should have got it in writing.

That’s Mayor Mike Duggan’s response to the failure of the Ilitch organization to fulfill the promises it made to create five largely residential neighborhoods in the Cass Corridor, adjacent to its new Little Caesars Arena.

Instead of building out The District Detroit, the Ilitches have turned most of the 55 blocks into surface parking lots to service the hockey facility.

And there’s not much the mayor or anyone else can do about it, Duggan said in an interview with The Detroit News during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

“I was angry at being excluded from the negotiations on the hockey arena deal,” Duggan said, explaining the agreement was reached by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr while the city was under state control.

"I’m not a person who spends a lot of time talking about things I can’t do anything about. I’ve been through the contracts. We have enforceable provisions and we have things that are not locked into the contract.”

And the transformational neighborhoods the Ilitches said they would build along with the construction of the arena on Woodward were never put into a legally binding document. What their organization did oblige itself to was an additional $200 million investment in the area, which they’ve made.

“We have a contract and the city executed its responsibility under the contract, and the Ilitches have executed their responsibilities,” Duggan said. “They stood up and made a bunch of promises with a lot of pictures, none of which were included in the contract.”

Duggan has little interest in pressing the pizza/sports empire to honor its word. His focus, he said, is elsewhere.

“Every week I do living room meetings in the neighborhoods,” he said. “At not one of those meetings has a single person ever said to me, ‘We need more housing downtown.’ Making them live up to their promise to build more housing downtown is not a priority.”

The mayor noted that along with the LCA, the Ilitches helped build the Mike Ilitch School of Business with Wayne State University, the first built-from-scratch office building downtown in 20 years to house their headquarters, and is moving ahead on a medical facility.

The organization also recently reached agreement with the family to renovate the Eddystone Building in the corridor into apartments, with 20 percent of them affordable units.

And this time, the city demanded a guarantee.

”We insisted, in order to forgo any future action, they put up a performance bond,” Duggan said. “They’ll have to write us a check so that we can finish it if they don’t. Whatever I do will be binding.”

Duggan said he is discussing The District Detroit with the Ilitches, and recognizes their challenges.

“Construction costs are up 30 percent in the city,” he said. “They had development and housing partners, both of whom walked away. You put those things together and you’ve got obstacles. Now how fast you move through them and how you do it, that’s what we’re talking through.”

But not with much urgency.

“I’m spending my time on Grand River, on Gratiot,” he said. “I’m totally consumed with neighborhood development. This is not a priority.”