The next step for Detroit: build a ski hill?

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The next thing Detroit should do is build a ski hill.

Or tear down more buildings.

Or hand out pompons.

And did you try the cheese blintzes?

The bankruptcy ruling was only hours away Friday when the first fork met flapjack at the Parade Co.'s annual VIP Pancake Breakfast.

If you have trouble picturing a ski slope along the Detroit River, you might think the eggs weren't the only things that were cracked. But I was asking for ideas, and people had them.

The question was simple:

What's the next step?

Downtown is thriving. Midtown is arriving. City hall went diving into Chapter 9, but with Friday's endorsement from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, the exit sign is lit.

So the question seemed reasonable — and so did the place to ask it.

The VIP breakfast is a 15-year tradition in which southeast Michigan's movers and shakers gather to move, shake, flip pancakes, admire the floats from America's Thanksgiving Parade, and try not to spill syrup on the suits they'll be wearing to work in an hour or two.

The cavernous warehouse on Mount Elliott was awash in coffee and optimism, and nobody this side of a Dale Carnegie conference is as optimistic as Edward Deeb.

The founder and chairman of the Michigan Food & Beverage Association says the next step is for Detroit "to have the most cheerleaders in the world."

Cheering doesn't improve the bus system, but if nobody says huzzah for the good things, the rest of the world only knows about the bad. And then nobody hears about the ski slope.

Dream big

Rod Alberts is executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which is not renowned for its wild and wacky ways.

But with the city building momentum, "I'd go in there big with something we've never had," he says.

Between the Renaissance Center and Atwater Street, you pile some dirt. OK, a lot of dirt, enough to create parking beneath it and ski runs atop it. You have snow machines for winter and surrounding green space for summer and hold events all year long.

"I'm a dreamer," he says, and at least that's better than rehashing old nightmares.

Mike Duggan is the mayor, and the nightmares are his department.

"The next step is what we've been doing all along," he says, and he tosses out some numbers: 1,000 more streetlights on line each week, 100 to 200 blighted houses knocked down, EMS response shaved to an average of 11 ½ minutes, the best in five years.

"The biggest difference for us will be that a huge part of our day has been consumed with bankruptcy issues," he says. "Now we'll be able to concentrate on moving the city forward."

You hear Duggan's name mentioned as a candidate for governor in 2018. You hear Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel's, too.

Hackel says emerging from bankruptcy is a starting point for luring businesses to Detroit. That's Detroit as in the region, not just below Eight Mile Road.

"It's not just, 'What can Macomb County do for Detroit,' " he says. "It's what Detroit can do for Macomb County."

Spreading the wealth around

Ric DeVore, who runs PNC Bank, says the next step "has to be the neighborhoods. There has to be a rebirth for everybody. You have to get the middle-class tax base back."

That snaps together like Legos with lots of other priorities.

Keep the bulldozers churning, says Saunteel Jenkins, who began her last day on City Council behind a griddle with a spatula in her hand. Improve the blocks and the schools. Give families a reason to move in, or to stay.

Build the neighborhoods from within, says CEO Robert Bury of the Detroit Historical Society. Support block clubs. Leverage cultural institutions like his.

All fine ideas, says Steve Courtney of WJR-AM (760), but first, "let's put things in place to make sure this doesn't happen again in 50 years."

If it does, he concedes, "that'll be 2064, and I won't have to worry about it."

But somebody will, so let's spare them the aggravation — and eat pancakes and go skiing instead.