When the Series returns to Detroit today for Game 3, TV viewers will get a glimpse of a vibrant downtown, including Comerica, the General Motors towers, popular restaurants and flashy casinos. High-end grocer Whole Foods is building its first Detroit store north of Comerica, and wealthy investors are snapping up vacant buildings and filling them with workers.
Yet beyond this pocket of revitalization, much of Detroit still is struggling to make a comeback after the great recession sent the city and the auto industry on a perilous plunge. Public finances are unstable, thousands of homes sit vacant, homicides are on the rise and many residents have left or want to leave.
“In ’06, it wasn’t as intense as it is now,” said barber Thomas Carter, referring to the Tigers last trip to the World Series as he cut hair at the C-Spot, 15 miles northwest of Comerica Park. “The city is in more desperation today. The blight and the black eyes weren’t as bad.”
Indeed, life in the neighborhoods seems a world away from downtown. The area around the ballpark has been a bright spot for the otherwise struggling city, and its success has been difficult to replicate.
Downtown’s rise took years to take hold. Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch reopened the rehabbed Fox Theatre in 1988, starting a slow revival along the historic, brick-paved artery, Woodward Avenue. In 2000, Ilitch moved the Tigers to a new stadium across the street from the Fox. Others have followed, including the Detroit Lions and its Ford Field, home of the 2006 Super Bowl.
The area is now buzzing. The new owners of Detroit Medical Center are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in hospitals. Employers are successfully offering subsidies to get workers to live downtown or in Midtown. Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert has acquired nearly a dozen buildings and other properties, even luring Chrysler as a tenant and renaming the building after the automaker.
“Government is in terrible shape but entrepreneurs are thriving,” said Joel Landy, who has no-vacancy signs on his rehabbed apartment buildings in and near downtown. “It’s the proximity to large institutions and the central business district, and the fact that we’re surrounded by five freeways with the ability to get in and out. ... It’s slower out in the neighborhoods but remember: Detroit is 140 square miles.”