Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Panic In Detroit: In case you didn’t know, next year's Superbowl is slated to be held in the Motor City. Apparently, if you build a new stadium for your football team, the NFL rewards you by scheduling a future Superbowl so you can so it off. It doesn’t matter how pathetic your infrastructure is, or how incompetent your city management. Here are some comments on the Jacksonville Superbowl from a UPI article that struggles mightily to make the best of things:
Sportswriters and sportscasters on expense accounts complained there weren't enough good restaurants. Restaurant operators in the downtown area complained there weren't enough customers.

The visitors said it was more fun in New Orleans. Nothing shocking about that.

Traffic at times suffered gridlock. Finding a taxi was almost impossible because Jacksonville, a city of 1.2 million people, doesn't have very many.

And hotel rooms were hard to find despite importing six cruise ships to provide more lodging for people in town for the game and its man side events.

Folks, you ain't seen nothing yet. You think you're going to find cabs in Detroit? Mass transit? Good restaurants? There are 1.2 million people in Jacksonville and pretty much anywhere you go in Florida there is at least some tourist support, witness the emergency cruise ship assistance. Detroit had to hunt for people ot fill out census documents to keep itself over a million in population a few years ago and it gets lower everyday. No low level tourist infrastructure, less general infrastructure.

As long as I have been alive Detroit as been rebuilding. I have come to be suspicious of the notion that there was ever anything to rebuild from. I suspect the whole rebuilding thing was a concept invented at the city's founding by the French to convince settlers not to flee to Montreal. Some things never change:

Next year's Super Bowl will be played in Detroit where the mission will be to show that its reputation for Rust Belt decline is not deserved.

Detroit has done a downtown makeover much in the way Jacksonville did, and most of the other chores are well under way. The makeover is costing $200 million, but it won't be completed by the time Super Bowl XL rolls around next Feb. 5 in the downtown area's new Ford Field.

Snicker. Now the foul-ups begin in earnest. Just for good measure:

It will be the second Super Bowl for Detroit. The first was Super Bowl XVI after the 1981 season. That one was marred by a game-day ice storm that bollixed traffic in the area of the Silver Dome for hours.

Snicker, snicker. And you want to talk hotel rooms? The perfect symbol of Detroit is the Hotel Pontchatrain. I remember from my childhood this place being the ultimate in class and elegance in downtown Detroit. It had a famous rooftop restaurant (Top of the Pontch) and a great reputation for panache. No doubt is was a symbol of Detroit's rebirth back in the 60s. Now read review at Fodors or Yahoo. They include quotes like, "The manager was downright nasty, the front desk person twisted our dissatisfaction around alleging it was personal!", and "In our entire lives this would be the second worst hotel we have ever stayed in" and "Its your money, save it, sleep at a campground", and "worst hotel in US".

Still, the Superbowl is coming, they should be able to fill all the downtown rooms at exorbitant prices when the time comes, no matter how offensive the property and staff. Well, obviously the current owners don’t want to give it a try because the current owners have put the hotel up for auction.

Let's consider that. The area is in the midst of a 200 million dollar restoration. The Superbowl is coming within walking distance. And there won’t be any emergency Cruise ships on the Detroit river. It's just an incredible opportunity for a landmark hotel; once in a lifetime. How could you not get rich? And yet, the current owners want out. One of the Pontch reviewers at Yahoo sums up why:

For those who haven't been to Detroit, here's a summary: Take chicago, board up the first floors of all the buildings downtown, cover the city with a fine layer of filth and pigeon feathers, set a bunch of cars on fire and leave them gutted out as public installations, put scaffolding on everything and leave it for years, allow the cabbies to drink on the job and turn their meters off to jack customers, then make 1/2 the city unemployed.

I would have added "remove all forms of recreational activity and reduce the El to one car which only follows the loop and only goes five miles per hour." That's Detroit. The current owners of the Pontch understand that all the Superbowls in the world aren’t going to change that.

But there will always be people to trumpet how Detroit is rebuilding. They may do this because it is in their financial interest to do so or the may do it out of naivete or they may do it out of abject stupidity, but they will continue to do it.

No sense in being disgusted, might as well be amused. Be forewarned, I am going to be riding the Detroit-Superbowl-Fiasco topic like a mechanical bull in a redneck bar for the next year.