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Detroit Bets On Uncertainty Of Rail, New Arena

Tom Stephens, a lawyer who spoke against the hockey arena at a recent city council meeting, asked why elected officials would spend a huge sum to benefit the "multibillionaire owner of a sports franchise" at a time when the needs of average residents are unmet.

If successful, the projects could buy time for improving essential services a¿¿ a promised upshot of bankruptcy. If they fail, the proposed developments could join a line of ideas a¿¿ some futile, others effective a¿¿ that could not stop Detroit's slide into ruin.

Belanger remembers when the People Mover, a little-used elevated train circling downtown, was going to help save Detroit in the 1980s. The system never attracted enough riders and relied too much on government subsidies.

Then Michigan voters approved three city casinos within a decade. At the turn of the millennium, new stadiums for the Tigers and Lions followed and helped renew downtown. Yet Detroit still lost a quarter of its population between 2000 and 2010. It is now about 700,000.

Belanger's bar, jazz club and restaurant stand to benefit if the new hockey arena for the Red Wings is built nearby, but he still has doubts.

"For every dollar spent in the new location, there's a dollar being lost in the old location," he said. "There's not going to be a hockey team in Detroit that wasn't already in Detroit."

Others are equally certain that Detroit has no choice but to bet on downtown, where residential occupancy rates are high partly due to the relocation of thousands of jobs by business magnate Dan Gilbert and other employers.

The proposed 3.3-mile streetcar project along the city's commercial corridor will bring light rail to one of the nation's few urban centers still without it. Transit is seen as crucial to attracting young professionals who are driving less and want an urban lifestyle. Just 5 percent of the metropolitan area's 25- to 34-year-olds live in or near downtown.

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