CHICAGO - The Detroit City Council approved two of three measures Friday needed to advance plans for a partially bond-financed $650 million downtown development that includes a new hockey arena and entertainment district.
The council approved expanding the Detroit Downtown Development Authority's existing 615-acre boundaries by 40 blocks to include the project site and it amended the DDA's tax-increment financing authority to include the project, laying the groundwork for the public financing component.
The council delayed a vote on a third piece of the legislative package transferring city-owned land for the project. It will vote on that piece in February after monitoring how the project is going. The move gives the council some leverage on the project and future input on job creation and a public benefits agreement, officials said during the council meeting.
"I don't think there's anybody that thinks that there won't be jobs created, taxes generated," council president Saunteel Jenkins said of the project. "But it's our job to make sure that Detroiters are a part of that."
The project has drawn sharp public rebukes at the use of tax dollars are being directed to finance a professional sports venue while the city struggling under $18 billion of debt and navigating through a historic Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
The council's vote partially advancing the project followed a vote a week earlier by the DDA approving a final concession agreement with the owners of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. The arena would serve as the new home for the National Hockey League team beginning as soon as 2017.
Under the plan, the state would demolish the Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings currently play. The $650 million sports and entertainment district would be anchored by a proposed 18,000-seat arena for the Red Wings with the prospect of up to 50 additional events when the team is not playing.
The stadium carries a $450 million price tag. The entertainment district is estimated to cost $200 million.
The city will partner with Olympia Development of Michigan, a real estate company owned by the Illitch family, which owns the Red Wings, baseball's Detroit Tigers, and the Little Caesars pizza chain. The new district would connect a section of the city's downtown with its midtown.
The financing has been months in the making and required state legislation that allows the DDA to use up to $15 million incremental property tax revenue generated in the district. The Michigan Strategic Fund approved the sale of $450 million of 30-year private activity bonds last July, just days after Detroit filed its historic Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition.
The financing plan relies on $365.5 million of private funding and $284.5 million of public funds.
The bonds would be backed by a pledge of the downtown development authority to set aside for debt service at least $12.8 million but not more than $15 million a year. The DDA pledged to contribute up to $62 million over 30 years in revenues in addition to those pledged for the bonds to support the additional projects.
The development authority would own the new arena and Olympia would operate it for 35 years, with 12 five-year renewal options. Supporters contend the project will create 13,000 jobs and inject $1.8 billion into the local economy and state.
Wayne County last month approved an agreement with the DDA that sets aside a piece of the county's property tax for bond debt service. Olympia would also pay $2 million annually into a capital improvement fund, and be responsible for any cost overruns.
The property tax-supported project is coming to fruition during a bankruptcy process in which the city government is seeking to wipe out bond debt backed with a voter-approved property tax levy.
Critics of the hockey/entertainment project say the city should not be tapping already thin property tax dollars to subsidize what will essentially be a private stadium and that sports stadiums typically fail to generate the type of new revenue touted at the outset.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other supporters say the deal is vital to Detroit's revival and will generate thousands of jobs and new revenue from sports fans and others visiting the entertainment district.