Super Bowl efforts makeover Detroit

As a kid living in the suburbs of Detroit, I had a shirt that describes how most outsiders feel about the city. It said, “Detroit: cars, bars and a few weirdos.”

The often jeered – rarely cheered city – will host Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in less than two weeks.

It seems hard to believe that a city with such a negative reputation would win such a prize – officials see hosting this event as a way to boost the city’s reputation.

I suppose it takes an event as big as the Super Bowl to motivate Michigan’s politicians to clean up the city.

Detroiters voted to allow casinos into the city which helped boost business in the Greek Town area of the city.

But, change has been slow before plans surfaced to host the Super Bowl.

Early ambitions to host the Super Bowl began in 1990 when the city mapped out plans for improvements.

The plan identified problematic and highly visible areas such as Woodward Avenue and other main streets.

These streets and sidewalks were repaved and new glass replaced broken, boarded up windows.

One part of the plan specified a goal to attract 50 new shops and restaurants on Lower Woodward Avenue. Today that part of the plan is a success – 64 new businesses have come to the area.

Campus Martius park is also a product of the Detroit’s rebirth.

The park mimics Rockefeller-style in New York City.

Some argue that a few coats of paint won’t fix all of the city’s problems.

George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., was very involved in the entire process of renovating the city.

He said, “We cannot rebuild the city in 36 months.” However, he has hopes the Super Bowl will catalyze the improvement process.

But, what about the problems that can’t be fixed with a visual makeover?

Detroit has a reputation of high crime rates and a large homeless population.

A report released by Wayne State University’s Michigan Metropolitan Information Center showed Detroit’s rate of serious crime is 26 percent below the national average.

Crime rates might be a misconception, the homeless population is an issue.

What is the quick and easy solution to the 13,000 homeless people in the city?

While the rest of the city attends high-dollar official NFL events hosted by the likes of Magic Johnson, the homeless won’t be left out.

Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries will host a three-day party for Detroit’s homeless population.

Big-screen televisions will provide Super Bowl coverage, food, clothes, beds and providers will be available to discuss long-term care.

In a Detroit Free Press article, 52-year-old homeless Detroiter Joe Richie sees through the efforts.

“They just want to get us off the streets, keep us from panhandling. When the game is over and we wake up the next morning, I still got nothing in my pockets,” he said.

There’s no doubt the Super Bowl will bring many benefits to the city such as increased business revenues and – if all goes well – a shiny new reputation.

My belief is this big party could leave a big hangover over the city.

Apart from the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries party, little has been done to address the problems that have crippled the city for so long.

Construction will camouflage the eye sores for the little time visitors and the press flood the city – but I have little faith the efforts will continue in the long term.

If the efforts to improve Detroit outlast the critics’ remarks, what could this mean for cities such as Cleveland and Cincinnati?

Maybe the biggest game in football will become more than just the biggest game in football.

Optimistically, Detroiters will see the potential in the dilapidated city and bring much needed business.

I see potential, but the real challenge is to convince the skeptics who maintain Detroit is a city of cars, bars and a few weirdos.

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