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Politics > Stir It Up

The stadium's last gasp

... and other musings on the state of Detroit

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Published 6/17/2009

As this is the Summer Guide issue of Metro Times, I cast my eye toward the warmer months and speculate. Things have already heated up this season, with urban camping, certainly a thrill in this water winter wonderland of ours. You've probably seen pictures of the tent city at Grand Circus Park, where the People's Summit took place these last few days. Today they're packing up and out of here, at least that's the way it was scheduled.

I can't say what happened at the People's Summit as I'm writing this a couple of days before it kicked off. However, I do have something to say about the National Summit at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel, which organizers of the People's Summit saw the need to counter with their own event. The National Summit was organized because "it's time to start the conversation on how to transform America's economy," according to Beth Chappell, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Club, which convened the gathering.

Their agenda covers manufacturing, technology, energy and the environment. But based on the speakers listed on the National Summit website, I have a hard time seeing how these folks are going to transform the economy in any way other than to enrich themselves. They're the same people who brought us the recession we're enjoying at the moment. Come on now, former Michigan Gov. John Engler is not a guy who has any ideas that are good for working-class and poor people. Along with honorable John, other speakers include honchos from Dow Chemical, Delta Airlines, Generation Investment Management, Exxon Mobil Corp., Fortune Magazine and others of the usual unfettered capitalism cronies.

One feature of the National Summit was the C-Suite, which their website says: "Provides a unique opportunity to engage cross-industry CEOs, senior government officials and subject matter experts in a private, luxurious setting." It was probably similar to the luxurious setting at the tent city, where various leftists of varying stripes covered similar subject matter but from a vastly different perspective.

But the main thing from the People's Summit that catches my imagination is the tent city itself. I can relate to that. A few years ago I saw a couple of tents pitched on the land just east of the Belle Isle bridge on the riverfront. Over time I saw folks who seemed to be living there fishing and cooking on an open fire. Homeless people pitching a tent on a nice piece of land and rustling up some grub from the river seemed a good idea to me.

Maybe we should create a city campground for those who have had their mortgages foreclosed. We already have people farming some of the wide-open fields around here. Why not a camp in the city? Throw up some tents on Belle Isle, in front of the old Michigan Central train station or a few blocks over at the Tiger Stadium site. There don't seem to be any other plans for the old ballpark.

OK, camping out there isn't the best idea. Maybe you could devote your summer to hanging out at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull to witness the last pieces of the stadium being dragged away. If enough people do that, the peanut vendors may come back to make a little cash from the crowd. Bring your own chair; the bleachers will not be open.

I lived my first 12 years practically in the shadow of Tiger Stadium. I could watch the fireworks displays set off there from my upstairs window. Sometimes my friends and I would go over on game days to hang around and see if anyone with extra tickets was giving them away. Even if there were no tickets forthcoming, generally some usher would let us in after the game got started. Then we could run around in the bleachers.

Sure, I've got some fond Tiger Stadium memories, but I'm not all broken up about knocking down the place. If the preservationists had been able to create something there, I'd say good for them. But after nearly 10 years of grasping at straws, the place has seen its last gasp. Folks who have the kind of money it would take to do something with the former stadium (the types who would attend the National Summit) didn't step up to the plate.

However, they have cast their eyes at some of our struggling businesses. Last week it was reported that six establishments downtown and one in Dearborn are getting special treatment from Detroit's Downtown Development Authority. The Atheneum Hotel and the Seldom Blues restaurant are among businesses that owe loan repayments to the DDA, which decided to let the struggling businesses pay only the interest on their loans for 18 months. That's a good thing. But it also underscores how these days when businesses struggle, they get bailed out, but when people struggle, they have nobody to bail them out but themselves.

It wasn't always such an uneven playing field. In the early 1970s, my father was out of work and suing Ford Motor Co. for a medical retirement. He'd contracted a permanent nasal infection after years of breathing toxic fumes in the paint shop. The mortgage on our house was held by a local bank. He called his mortgage officer and got the same deal these downtown businesses just got. Pay the interest on your mortgage and don't worry about the principal. These days, your mortgage has probably been bundled and sold to someone else. The ultimate mortgage holder could well be in China, and there's no calling up to ask for special terms during times of hardship. Our neighborhood association has a hard time finding out who actually owns some of the foreclosed houses sitting empty in our neighborhood. You could spend your whole summer trying to figure that out.

Another topic to speculate about this season is the future of Detroit's political scene. There will be new faces on City Council, just as there is a new one in City Hall. Well, Mayor Dave Bing is not a new face, just one we're not used to seeing as a politician. We'll see some new faces on council — at least two because Barbara-Rose Collins and Sheila Cockrel aren't running for re-election. Familiar names and faces tend to have an advantage (witness Martha Reeves), but other than former television newsman Charles Pugh, former Detroit Police Deputy Chief Gary Brown and the incumbnents, the 167 candidates seeking the nine council slots aren't well-known. The current disillusionment with council that I'm hearing doesn't bode well for current council members, with the possible exception of Kwame Kenyatta. His outspoken yet evenhanded manner during the calamitous past year seems to have set him apart from the rest.

There could be big turnover this year, but that's even more likely to happen in the future if Detroiters for Council by District suceeds in its petition drive to get the question on the fall ballot — and then gets the votes out to pass it. And based on what I'm hearing around town the district plan is likely to pass if it's on the ballot. Now that might change if local heavy hitters come out swinging hard against it when we get close to the election.

And finally, is it possible to get through the summer without obsessing about something Kwame Kilpatrick did? Last week the news was about his new $1.1 million home. As long as the guy is paid up on his restitution — which seems to be the case at the moment — I really don't want to know what he is doing. As they say, we must move on.

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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