Finley: Duggan says casinos won't fully reopen for months

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

It will be a while before Detroit can milk its cash cows again.

Mayor Mike Duggan says absent a vaccine against COVID-19, the city's three casinos likely will not be able to fully reopen. 

“The opening of the entertainment sector and casinos is going to depend on the development of the anti-virals, the development of a vaccine, and things that are outside our control,” Duggan said in an interview this week.

“I would be surprised if a vaccine develops within a year. So we're going to have to deal with it. Do the casinos end up reopening with 25% or 30% capacity? I don’t know.”

Living without the remarkably stable revenue stream from the casinos won't be easy. Taxes and development fees from the gaming houses brought in $184 million for Detroit last year, and $118 million for the state, and accounted for 20% of the city’s general fund.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks on Detroiters and the coronavirus at a press conference at Shed 5 in Eastern Market in Detroit on April 17, 2020.

Still, Duggan says the city is in better shape than some other cities, most notably Las Vegas, which counts on gambling for the bulk of its revenue. Vegas casinos are planning a 50% reopening when restrictions end.

Detroit also went into the crisis with a $107 million rainy day fund, and will use $50 million of that to offset budget cuts. The City Council also approved Tuesday $72 million in cuts to blight elimination spending, as well as trims in the workforce and transit for a total savings of $348 million.

The deferral of the war on blight troubles Duggan.

“Blight and its effect on the neighborhoods is going to be a problem,” he said. “But it’s a choice between that and cutting police and fire. A number of services are going to be slowed down for awhile. But I don’t think Detroiters are going to see, outside of the blight, big reductions. There won’t be any rec centers open this summer. But we couldn’t have brought crowds together in rec centers anyway.”

Along with casinos, Duggan sees a full restart of restaurants and other entertainment venues that became a signature of downtown’s comeback to be a long way off.

“It’s going to be quite a while before people are going to be sitting down in a restaurant with strangers within six feet," he said. "It’s going to be a long time before they go to movie theaters or baseball games. But is there going to be a point in a month or two when you can have a quarter of the tables in a restaurant open? Maybe.”

But the summer of 2020 won't be the triumph Duggan expected.

“Look at Livernois. I expected Livernois to be jammed from one end to another with all the improvements we’ve made, and outdoor cafes and the like," he said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking to see that we’re not going to be able to do that.”

As for the rest of the economy, the mayor says he expects a steady return to more normal operations, and he’s bullish on the city’s future.

“Were going to have an announcement in the next couple months on two major employers who are coming into the city of Detroit,” he said. “We’re very attractive for a lot of reasons — the affordability of housing, the speed with which you can get things done. You’re going to see new development continue to come.

“Construction is going to come back fast. A lot of people are anxious to get going. FCA is anxious to get going on its Jeep plant on the east side. Contractors are ready to go.”

Duggan expects downtown offices as well as auto plants and other manufacturing sites to reopen soon with social distancing and other precautions in place.

“If you have a small art store, a clothing store, quite possibly you can reopen soon with social distancing,” he said. “If you have a restaurant with tables on top of each other, it’s going to be a lot harder for you.

“Any business that can get customers in and out in a safe way has a real chance of getting restarted. Those that require customers to sit in close proximity to each other, it’s going to be tougher. It’s almost going to be a business by business issue.”

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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