Super Bowl puts happy face on blue Motor City

2006-02-04T00:00:00Z Super Bowl puts happy face on blue Motor CityBy John Romano St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times Arizona Daily Star
February 04, 2006 12:00 am  • 

DETROIT — The party starts today. It requires no invitation, but everyone in attendance will have already paid a lifetime worth of dues.

Here at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, the idea of Super Bowl excess has not been overlooked. So a three-day party for the homeless has been planned. A big-screen TV is available. Two oversized cakes have been baked.

There's a finite number of beds, true, but an endless supply of hope.

"We cannot have lobsters like they have downtown at the Super Bowl," said the ministries' chief operating officer, Chad Audi. "But we may have more meat than usual."

Welcome to the Super Bowl of incongruence. America's loudest party has landed in one of its most depressed cities.

Depending on one's perspective, the result has been uplifting or shameful. An economic boon or an extravaganza of waste. A cunning success or a laughable coverup.

Buildings with shattered glass and boarded-up exteriors have gotten a makeover. New windows have been installed to give the appearance of occupancy even though the hallways inside are as empty as a forgotten promise.

Styrofoam shells painted to look like marble have been attached to the outside of decrepit buildings for a more fashionable appearance.

Roads have been closed, and all traffic is steered toward the downtown Renaissance Center with its bright lights and new businesses.

"This game has served as a catalyst to move Detroit in a way of economic development that we haven't moved in 50 years," Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said.

"Detroiters have a pent-up demand to do well. We want to reintroduce ourselves to the world as the new Detroit."

The party ended last week. Not with a Super Bowl finish of confetti and song, but instead with falling tears and heartbreak. In the town of Wixom, about 30 miles northwest of Downtown Detroit, forever's rumor finally arrived Jan. 23.

Workers at a Ford assembly plant, one that has been the heart of the town's economy for 50 years or more, were told the facility was shutting down.

"A lot of the businesses in town are not too happy right now," said Leonard Gilpatrick, owner of the Wixom Bar. "A third of my clientele are from that plant. I don't see how the closing is going to help me any.

"It's not a real happy time."

It was part of a nationwide cutback that will include the loss of 34,000 jobs and the closing of 14 factories. Ford had losses of $1.6 billion in North America last year, although the company was still profitable worldwide.

The announcement of the reduced work force and Wixom closing was made by Bill Ford Jr., the great-grandson of the auto manufacturer's founder.

This is the same Bill Ford Jr. whose family owns the Detroit Lions. The one whose family name is on the new $500 million stadium opened in 2002, which led the NFL to award Super Bowl XL to Detroit.

The idea that the Ford Motor Co. would slash tens of thousands of jobs within days of playing host to America's most lavish, some might say gluttonous, sporting event seemed more than a little cruel.

It's not as if economic hardship was a secret around here. The unemployment rate in the metro area is about 40 percent higher than the rest of the nation's, and Detroit's population has been cut in half during the last 50 years.

Still, it seems hard to reconcile spending tens of millions to produce a football game at a time when Detroit's automobile industry is flagging.

"In Michigan, regardless of whether a person is employed or unemployed, I think they understand the importance of (the Super Bowl) for the economy," Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said.

"What you see happening outside, the improvements here, is not just a facade. It's real, and everyone wants that to continue. It will, in turn, draw new employers and economic opportunities.

"We don't think there is a disconnect at all. It's part of an important step in the path to economic recovery."

Granholm and Mayor Kilpatrick point out that 70 new businesses have opened in the downtown area since the announcement of the Super Bowl. They might also say the cosmetic renovations are a strategic attempt to lure even more businesses at a time when the nation's attention is focused on Detroit.

In a strange way, it's the same game plan being used by the Detroit Rescue Mission, where a successful Super Bowl means less than a hot soup bowl.

Although reports have indicated police were sweeping the homeless off downtown streets to keep them away from visitors, ministries officials say it was their idea to provide the three-day Super Bowl party.

The more people they can get into the shelter this weekend the more opportunities to enroll them in detox and transitional housing programs.

"The city of Detroit does not want the reputation of other cities of rounding up the homeless and hiding them somewhere," said Audi, of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

"So we decided to come up with another plan. To extend and help service the individual and help them keep their dignity and respect.

"We realize we have a problem, and we're not trying to hide it. Yes, we're using the Super Bowl as a platform, but we'll still be here on Monday, too."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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