Gov. Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and others joined the Ilitch family to cut the ribbon on the new Little Caesar’s Arena complex on Tuesday.
Both the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will play home games there within weeks.
The arena is touted as the anchor of the new “District Detroit,” a 50-block redevelopment project just north of downtown Detroit that also includes new housing and retail.
The Ilitches own the Red Wings, as well as the Detroit Tigers. Their company, Olympia Development, is spearheading the District Detroit project.
Olympia Development and other private funders are financing the bulk of the arena project, now projected to cost $863 million.
But Detroit taxpayers will have to pick up at least $325 million in upfront costs too. That’s been a contentious point in the nation’s poorest big city.
City Council President Brenda Jones said everyday Detroit residents deserve some return on that investment. “Everyone knows what was important to me is when you’re spending taxpayers’ dollars, you give something back to the city,” she said.
Jones believes the city is getting something back, in the form of jobs and skilled trades apprenticeships for Detroiters. However, the project’s backers have been fined for missing targets in the number of city residents employed so far.
The speakers at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting called it a landmark moment in Detroit’s revival.
Duggan said that not so long ago, “Detroit was in bankruptcy, on our back and a national embarrassment.”
But just four years later, “the city of Detroit is the only city in America where all four major professional sports teams now play in the downtown core. How about that!” Duggan said to applause.
The public can get a sneak peek of Little Caesar’s Arena this week. The venue officially opens with a series of Kid Rock concerts next week.
That pick for opening act has proved controversial because, among other reasons, Kid Rock has frequently used Confederate flag insignia as part of his act. At least one protest is planned on opening night.
But Olympia Entertainment has doubled down on the choice, saying in a statement: “Kid Rock has been a consistent supporter of Detroit, and the marketplace has responded accordingly,” adding that “Performing artists’ viewpoints in no way represent an endorsement of those viewpoints by Olympia Entertainment.”