After decades of decay, the city at the center of the auto industry collapse, floored by a recession, is getting back on its feet. It is by far recovered; however, Detroit is about feel the impact of a Tiger-driven economy. The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the three World Series games about to be played in Motown would pour $26 million into a city that can use it.
“We expect it (World Series) to have an impact of upwards of $8 million a game…it is an economic engine for us,” Dave Beachnau, executive director of the Detroit Sports Commission, told Reuters. “One of the reasons we formed the Detroit Sports Commission was we see the value and importance of hosting events of that magnitude, not only because of the economic benefits they can provide but also by casting a positive image on the region…. We are changing the perception of Detroit.”
Once a bustling city that was home to nearly two million people, Detroit now has fewer than 800,000 residents. Giving new meaning to Urban Flight, many fled to the suburbs, escaping the high crime rates and to search for jobs. Detroit was left behind, described by Reuters as a “decaying shell of a once great American metropolis.”
The Tigers’ return to the World Series will realistically do more to boost sagging spirits and civic pride than turn around the local economy in a weekend. Nevertheless, the Tigers, the National Hockey League’s Red Wings and the National Football League’s Lions are doing their part to breathe life into a downtown that was left for dead. Comerica Park and Ford Field, located across the street from each other, are two world-class facilities providing an anchor for the redevelopment of the downtown core. Detroit is also set to host the NHL Winter Classic as well, baring a complete cancelation of the hockey season this year.
Amid acres of empty lots and boarded up, crumbling buildings new businesses have begun to appear. Fans now linger before and after games at a growing number of pubs and restaurants, instead of racing back to their cars. “The last couple of years we have seen a resurgence of companies moving downtown, or downtown employers hiring more people,” said Beachnau. “You walk around downtown at lunch time you see a lot of young professionals, who work and live downtown.
He continued, “Sport has been a staple of this community for years, the Lions moving downtown played a major role in the resurgence of the stadium district, the side-by-side stadiums and the things that have been established around it…Sport continues to play a vital role in our local economy.”
Despite the tough times and one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States, Tigers fans have been among the Major Leagues’ most loyal. This year they have topped three million in attendance for the third time in six seasons. That’s pretty astounding. Detroit fans stood by their Lions as the team set a new standard for failure in stumbling to a 0-16 season. They celebrated with the Red Wings, who won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and reached the final in 2009 as well. Professional sports give the city something to cheer. It started an Urban Renewal as the car industry imploded.
“The economy in Michigan and the Detroit region has made more progress than just about any other place in the nation,” Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber told Reuters. “The entrepreneurs are coming back, the auto industry is doing better and there is investment in the city. Good things are happening and the national media is recognizing that. The sports teams have kind of been the icing on the cake.”
Despite the optimism, one need only gaze out from behind home plate at Comerica Park. Darkened, vacant skyscrapers remind you that Detroit has just taken the first steps on the long road back. Nonetheless, it’s still a start. According to Forbes, Detroit remains the most violent city in the United States. There were 345 reported murders in 2011 and unemployment rates, while improving dramatically over the last three years, remain among the country’s highest. I used to live in Camden, New Jersey. Trust me. Those are heavy numbers.
The city’s teams will continue to play a major role in that redevelopment. Not just by attracting big events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four, they are opening eyes to the possibilities of the Motor City. The Detroit Regional Chamber is seizing on that opportunity and will host a dozen people from site selector firms, whose job it is to scout out new locations for Fortune 1000 companies this weekend. Their day will be capped off by a World Series game between the Tigers and San Francisco Giants in the evening.
“The immediate tangible of hosting the World Series is the income but here’s the other incredible benefit,” said Baruah. “Every game that is going to be played in Detroit on national television is an advertisement for Detroit…It will remind people across the country of the progress the city has made and that Detroit is back in business.”