Watching construction workers appear before Detroit City Council, one after another, to advocate for the rezoning of the new Olympia arena development, I worried that it might actually happen. As a former mason tender, I empathize: a few years of steady employment sounds like a dream. The fact is that the arena development will happen. The jobs will be there. At issue is our last chance to extract some concessions out of a very bad deal made by Kevyn Orr.
Detroit City Council is in uncharted territory. They are the first council in a century to represent districts, and they are taking it seriously. Olympia’s original deal with Kevyn Orr contains a non-binding agreement wherein Olympia will hire 30 percent of arena development contractors from within the city proper, 501 percent of arena employees will be Detroiters, the Eddystone Hotel will be restored, and 20 percent of apartments will be set aside as affordable housing. Detroit City Council wants a binding Community Benefits Agreement.
If it is Olympia’s intent to do right by the city, why is it so hard to put it on paper? The Detroit Free Press quotes Council President Brenda Jones: “I have been here 10 years. I have see trust come and go. It’s not that I don’t trust you… Chris Ilitch; it’s not that I don’t trust Mr. (Mike) Ilitch. What I do trust is seeing something in writing.”
Enter The Detroit News, sounding like shrill racist shills: “Council members are ignoring some facts about Detroit’s workforce. Just 12 percent of city residents have college degrees, according to the U.S. census bureau, and just 77 percent have high school diplomas.” Uh-huh. I barely passed high school and managed to keep jobs in restaurants and construction for years before I went to college. These are the jobs that make up the bulk of those within the arena development: unskilled labor, concessions, maintenance, etc. Go home, Detroit News. You’re drunk.
Tom Walsh writes a similar opinion for The Detroit Free Press (which was refuted by the Detroit Free Press Editorial Board). Like his counterparts at the News, Walsh only uses facts when they fit his agenda, and is insulting from the get-go. His title is “Uh-oh: Is Detroit City Council reverting to bad habits?” Let’s get real. This development is 58 percent publicly funded. The Detroit City Council is representing the interests of the public, and if they asked for a complete start-from-scratch deal they would not be out of line.
Welcome back to democracy. I know the EFM was fun for some people, but hopefully the gravy train is over. We need to stop giving millions of dollars of taxpayer money to billionaires and giant corporations who will tell us to be thankful that they created a few hundred $9 per hour jobs.
On that note, I still love hockey. Let’s Go Red Wings!