For Super Bowl, Detroit tries to work on its image

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DETROIT -- Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is so determined to show Super Bowl visitors a new face for his beleaguered city that he is willing to sacrifice its Motown roots.

This week, wrecking crews began taking down the long-abandoned office building that was home to Motown Records from 1968 to 1972.

The destruction upset Francis Grunow, executive director of Preservation Wayne, a group that has tried for decades to save some of the city's more significant buildings.

"It seems very sad that all it's worth is 50 parking spots for the Super Bowl," Grunow said.

The mayor said he could no longer tolerate the marred facade, broken windows and empty corridors of the building. "I just couldn't take it anymore," he said in an interview.

The demolition, which Kilpatrick said had the blessing of Motown's founder, Berry Gordy, is part of a much bigger plan by city officials to show Detroit in a different light to the estimated 100,000 visitors who will arrive before the kickoff Feb. 5 at Ford Field.

"It's an opportunity to present people with the next Detroit," Kilpatrick said.

Although the city has torn down a few buildings, many dilapidated ones remain readily visible.

Long-empty structures like the old United Artists Hotel are draped with signs like "Premium Development Opportunity."

Storefronts on Woodward Avenue that had been boarded up for years have new glass, if no commerce.

For residents and boosters, the big question is whether those buildings will be occupied in a year or whether their glass will be broken again.

To embellish the image of a revival, the host committee of the Super Bowl, led by Roger Penske, the entrepreneur and auto racing team owner, is spending $10 million on parties, concerts, sports clinics, and indoor and outdoor festivals.

"This is going to be a blockbuster event," Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm said. "They have every detail covered."

Granholm, who plans to attend some of the 120 events that the National Football League has sanctioned, said she hoped that the Super Bowl would help divert attention from the bad economic news ricocheting across the city and the state.

The Super Bowl could contribute up to $300 million to the local economy, including spending on hotel rooms, meals, transportation and other attractions, the mayor said.

Detroit badly needs the infusion. Its economy has been pummeled by the billion-dollar losses at General Motors and the Ford Motor Co., whose chief executive, William Clay Ford Jr., also owns the Detroit Lions. Tomorrow, Ford Motor is widely expected to announce plans to cut up to 30,000 jobs and to close factories, similar to steps that GM took in November.

That month, Detroit had the highest unemployment rate, 6.8 percent, of any urban area in the nation except New Orleans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About $100 million in public and private money has been spent on sprucing up the central business district and development projects to create apartment lofts in old buildings near the stadium.

Nobody has estimated the cost of police protection on game day.

The city faces a budget deficit of up to $30 million, forcing Kilpatrick to close nine of 30 recreation centers this month and lay off the mounted police division.

Despite the cuts, every officer in the department will be on duty for Super Bowl Sunday, downtown or in their precincts, the mayor said.

The host committee is tutoring thousands of volunteers to "say nice things about Detroit" when encountering visitors.

Another effort is trying to help the homeless leave the streets for shelters on Super Bowl Weekend. One shelter, the Detroit Rescue Mission, plans a three-day Super Bowl party with food and four big-screen television sets. Experts estimate that 3,000 or more homeless people are on the streets at any one time, with up to a total of 13,000 homeless people.

Charities that plan to be hosts for some sanctioned events hope to collect $8 million leading up to the game. One is the Children's Center, whose board and officers include four members of the Ford family.

The impact of the city's downturn has been felt acutely by charity organizations like Focus: Hope, which was founded after the 1967 riots to provide food, job training and other aid to the poor. Last year, Focus: Hope suspended its parts manufacturing program, in which trainees made automobile parts.

Because it is not on the list of officially sanctioned charities, Focus: Hope will not raise money directly because of the Super Bowl, said its chief executive, Eleanor M. Josaitis.

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