Detroit casinos deal Motor City urban renewal
DETROIT -- From the steps of the historic Second Baptist Church, the Rev. Kevin M. Turman sees people stream into the Greektown Casino across the street. It's a sight the pastor was once loath to accept.
"I thought they set the wrong moral tone," Turman said. "I thought they were a magnet for crime. I thought they were economically counterproductive.
"The fact that the casinos are paying taxes on their income has helped the city at a time when it needed help."
While they aren't a panacea for all the city's ills, the casinos have hushed many critics, including Turman, who thought they'd bring only more crime and blight.
Soon after the first temporary casino opened eight years ago, downtown crime decreased, while development and redevelopment increased. The casinos were never expected to revitalize neighborhoods, but their prosperity has been good for the region, a spokesman for the mayor said.
Casino operators envision an even brighter future.
Starting next month, the first of three luxury hotels will open as part of the casinos' $1.5 billion investment in their permanent facilities. The MGM Grand Detroit, Greektown and MotorCity complexes will add 1,200 upscale rooms and suites to the downtown area, and feature more than 220 gaming tables and about 8,000 slots.
"They have the potential to attract even more visitors, becoming more of a resort-style destination," American Gaming Association spokeswoman Holly Thomsen said.
Detroit ranked fifth last year in casino markets with $1.3 billion in annual revenue. The Las Vegas strip was tops at more than $6.6 billion, followed by Atlantic City at $5.5 billion. Las Vegas has more than 274 casinos and Atlantic City has 11.
Since opening, the Detroit casinos have pumped slightly more than $1 billion into city coffers and created about 7,000 jobs at a time when many Michigan companies are closing or cutting back. The Detroit area's unemployment rate last month was 8.4 percent, still well above the statewide rate of 7.2 percent. A Wayne State study listed the city's jobless rate last year at close to 15 percent.
Michigan voters approved casinos for Detroit in 1996. MotorCity and MGM Grand opened temporary casinos in 1999, with Greektown following a year later.
"Detroit was faced with a tough decision: no development or the development being the casinos," Miami-based urban planner Mike Lydon said. "It's one of those one-time experiences where it was a good move at the time. But casinos are not going to save the city."
Judy Casey isn't ready to declare the MotorCity casino the neighborhood's savior. She can see the casino's gleaming, new 17-story hotel from her bungalow on Detroit's west side. But she also sees a pile of concrete rubble and noisome weeds from her porch.
"Someone tore out that concrete four years ago," Casey said. "It's a wonder to me that people from the casino haven't made any complaints about it."
Similar lots dot the neighborhood near the casino, located in a former Wonder Bread factory.
Still, casino tax money and fees are allowing the city to pay for clean-up efforts, economic development programs and increased police patrols.
"We have committed a lot of our resources to cleaning up the neighborhood, and we've cleaned lots repeatedly," says MotorCity spokeswoman Jacci Woods. "We go out and ask neighbors for their input in terms of areas they would like to see us help with."
From 2001 to 2005, crime incidents in downtown Detroit dropped from more than 3,000 to 2,025. More than half were larcenies, a Wayne State University study shows.
"The casinos have been a bit of a stabilizing force," said Don Holecek, a Michigan State professor and former head of the school's travel and tourism resource center.
The state gets more than $8.3 million yearly from Detroit's three casinos. It has received more than $412 million from 18 Indian casinos across the state since the first one opened in 1993.
Rene Monforton, spokeswoman for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, is excited about what Detroit's casinos bring to the city.
"If you look at all the development in the last seven years, the downtown product is evolving,"