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Lessenberry: Billionaires like Mike Ilitch are capitalists, “not Mother Teresa”

Feb 13, 2017

Mike Ilitch certainly left his mark on downtown Detroit, beginning with the major renovation of the Fox Theatre in 1988 and continuing to this day with the ongoing construction of Little Caesars Arena for the Red Wings and the Pistons.

There are those who found a lot to criticize in the way the Ilitch family acquired downtown property, maintained that property, and financed its arenas.

Michigan Radio's senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry joined Stateside to talk about Ilitch's legacy when it comes to the business side of his life and what he did for the city of Detroit.

When it comes to Ilitch's legacy in the city of Detroit, it's a mixed bag. It really depends on who you ask.

"It has to be said that Mike Ilitch was starting to [revitalize Detroit] long before anybody else did," Lessenberry said. "I think his revitalization of the Fox Theater ... was a big plus for Detroit and it may have gotten some other [revitalization] going. On the other hand, a lot of people raised eyebrows at his insistence on taxpayer support of his stadium projects."

There is an ongoing debate about whether it makes good financial sense for taxpayers to fund sports stadiums and arenas. Lessenberry said there are a lot of studies that suggest there are much better ways cities and states can spend their taxpayer dollars. 

The situations often amount to "people who are in poverty are being forced to subsidize the billionaires' playpen," Lessenberry said. 

According to Lessenberry, Ilitch was happy to invest in projects that improved the city of Detroit, but at the end of the day, he was in the game to make money. Lessenberry said billionaires like Ilitch are capitalists and "not Mother Teresa."

Listen to the full interview above to hear why some fans are still angry with the way the original Tiger Stadium was managed and later demolished, and how Ilitch's legacy will be remembered in Detroit.

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