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Detroit Bets On Uncertainty Of Rail, New Arena

By DAVID EGGERT

DETROIT (AP) a¿¿ It may be too broke to pay its bills or even respond to 911 calls on time, but Detroit is still thinking big.

As the debt-ridden metropolis moves through bankruptcy proceedings that are turning its empty pockets inside-out, local and state leaders are proposing expensive new projects, including a hockey arena doubling as an events center, plus a mass transit line.

If built, the developments would cost $800 million and bet at least $300 million in future tax revenues on an effort to attract people to a place that residents have been fleeing for 60 years.

Skeptics say the plans are needlessly risky for a city with so much debt that it can't fund services as simple as streetlights. Spending hundreds of millions on unproven projects, they insist, is like taking an unemployment check to a casino instead of paying for basic necessities.

"Detroit is not going to be saved by an individual project with a bunch of money poured into it," said businessman Jerry Belanger, a vocal critic of the arena project. "It's not going to help Detroit schools, it's not going to help rebuild buildings that are completely blighted."

The efforts are focused narrowly on a 10-square-mile district in and near downtown, which is home to corporations such as General Motors and draws suburban workers and visitors to sporting events, concerts and cultural institutions. Outside the city center lays a wasteland of 130 square miles of neighborhoods with high crime, vacant homes and few prospects.

Supporters predict the downtown improvements will expand the tax base and lay the path to a brighter financial future. They say the stakes extend beyond Detroit to include the entire state.

Without "vibrant central cities," college-educated young people will continue to leave "and take the future Michigan economy with them," said Lou Glazer, an economic expert and president of the nonpartisan research organization Michigan Future Inc.

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