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Downtown gets a $200 million makeover for the '06

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Is Detroit ready for some football?

Downtown gets a $200 million makeover for the '06 Super Bowl, but many projects won't be finished.

By Judy Lin, Francis X. Donnelly and Nick Bunkley / The Detroit News

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Detroit has targeted vacant structures, including the Detroit Opera House garage, for demolition prior to the Super Bowl. Planners say a year from now, downtown will be a mix of the new, the old and the yet-to-be finished.

DETROIT -- Downtown Detroit won't be the vibrant community pitchmen described when they sold the National Football League on holding Super Bowl XL here five years ago, but the game's arrival has sparked what some say is the biggest building boom in decades -- and stirs the possibility of attracting new residents.

With the Super Bowl 371 days away, more than $200 million is being poured into downtown to prepare for the nation's largest sports spectacle. But despite the frenzy, a number of promises won't be met.

The fabled Book Cadillac Hotel sits empty, despite promises of redevelopment, and permanent casino hotels, if they're ever added to the skyline, won't be there by 2006. A goal to attract 50 new businesses has yet to be reached. And efforts to clean up blight have suffered from lackluster participation.

Super Bowl organizers and city planners now are focusing on finishing selected projects, from beautifying main thoroughfares to demolishing the vacant Statler Hotel. Planners say a year from now, downtown will still be a mix of the new, the old and the yet-to-be finished.

"It's a lot farther along than it was 20 years ago," said Bob Abernethy, 58, of Southgate, an engineer from Ford Land who has spent 15 months helping construct and maintain Campus Martius Park, a new town square in the heart of downtown. "Once Hudson's (department store) left, there wasn't a real drawing card for downtown. Now that buildings are being replaced, it's becoming new."

"It's a rebirth," added his wife, Armina, 46. .

Since the NFL awarded Detroit the game in late 2000, downtown has seemingly been preoccupied with getting itself ready to host some 70,000 fans and 3,000 media personnel, not to mention the 800 million people worldwide who will be watching on television.

City planners and the business community identified four public projects they wanted to tackle: Campus Martius Park; the Lower Woodward Streetscape Project, which includes building cleanup and streetscape improvements; the RiverWalk, a five-mile riverfront pathway; and improving the downtown infrastructure, such as water lines, lights and roads.

George Jackson, director of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasipublic agency helming economic development projects, said it's true that residents and commuters have endured a tremendous amount of construction over the past two years -- some of which will continue this year.

What's not true, he says, is that it's being done solely for revelers who will stay an average of four days.

"The Super Bowl is something that helps us focus," Jackson said. "Have I used it to get cooperation that is unprecedented? Oh, yes. Have we used it to build a sense of urgency? To a certain extent, yes. But what we're really doing is using it as an instrument to help us transform the city for the next century."

Detroit isn't just troubled by current challenges; it's stigmatized by its past. The last time the Super Bowl was in Michigan in 1982, it met a classic January ice storm at the Pontiac Silverdome. And few attending the 1980 Republican National Convention were deceived by the awnings attached to vacant buildings to make Detroit more attractive.

"Those things didn't help us as a community," said DTE Energy Distribution President Bob Buckler, who is advising the Super Bowl Host Committee.

Rather than faking a lively downtown, planners focused on making permanent improvements in hopes of fostering a real residential community filled with retail and entertainment venues. The city took on the ambitious goal of adding 1,000 residential units, 50 new businesses and adopted an aggressive blight campaign.

There have been halting starts.

At present, 635 loft units are either ready, under construction or in the planning stages. Of 34 new businesses, 20 are restaurants. But empty storefronts don't complement new sidewalks.

It's too soon to tell whether a blight court -- which fines building owners who neglect to maintain their properties -- that began this month will goad them into shoveling sidewalks. And a matching grant for cleaning building facades got a lukewarm reception from owners.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people did not participate (in the incentives) as I've been told," said the city's Deputy Chief Operating Officer Al Fields. "But we'll have the summer to court them."

Anthony Pieroni, owner of the 13-story Michigan Building on Bagley, said the Super Bowl is merely an excuse. "With facade work, in my experience, there's no return on it," Pieroni said.

While it remains unclear whether downtown will rise again, Detroit will have little choice but to play the part in one year, said Jim Steeg, NFL vice president for special events.

"You have to try to convince people it's a vibrant community," Steeg said. "Six or seven figures are spent by firms to bring people in for four days. They need to know that there's more than a four-hour football game."

"The Super Bowl is something that helps us focus."

You can reach Judy Lin at (313) 222-2072 or [email protected]

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Here's the rest of the special report

http://www.detnews.com/specialreports/2005...rbowl/index.htm

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"Once Hudson's (department store) left, there wasn't a real drawing card for downtown. Now that buildings are being replaced, it's becoming new."

Replacing with what? Parking lots or grass, thats what.

Super Bowl is a sad excuse for a rebirth. Too many misguided efforts!

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I am glad to see it. I went to Detroit in 2003 and was totally shocked by what it looked like. The downtown area was just nasty. I think this will help that area out a lot. Good luck in getting it finished!

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I didn't realize the metopolitain building could start work as early as this spring and it sounds like they have already the preliminary work.

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The Metropolitan Building was supposed to start last fall. However, they discovered that there were title issues with the building. It sounds like they finally got those worked out. Between the Metropolitan and ugly YMCA, the area will really be alive. Now if we could get something done about the Wurlitzer....

The United Artists Theater will probably just sit there, just as it has been since Ilitch aquired the building. The theater is completely destroyed, but there is no reason why the office building portion cannot be saved.

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The Metropolitan Building was supposed to start last fall.  However, they discovered that there were title issues with the building.  It sounds like they finally got those worked out.  Between the Metropolitan and ugly YMCA, the area will really be alive.  Now if we could get something done about the Wurlitzer....

The United Artists Theater will probably just sit there, just as it has been since Ilitch aquired the building.  The theater is completely destroyed, but there is no reason why the office building portion cannot be saved.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Not to mention Ilitch always makes some sort of excuse, or nothing at all.

Trust me Ilitch will never ever say the word restore in a sentence (unless he's still trying to act like a good guy saying he resotred the Fox 17 years ago!)

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