The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/27/14 at 03:35 AM ET
For the second Sunday in a row, a business-related cover story by the Detroit Free Press kicks off the overnight report, but we're not talking about a massive rink and arena district plan this morning; instead, we're discussing a comparison between business entities that the rink project made inevitable.
The Free Press's John Gallagher compares the approaches made by Mike Ilitch and Dan Gilbert toward building and rebuilding the City of Detroit, "Ilitchville vs. Gilbertville" graphic and respective-property photo gallery included, and while Gallagher's willing to compare the old-school business baron and new-school real estate mogul to (whose companies own sports teams and Detroit casinos) to Pittsburgh's Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, such a suggestion is at least premature:
Law professor Mogk draws a distinction between the Ilitch-Gilbert investments and those of Carnegie and Mellon in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie and Mellon “contributed generously to creating and supporting public institutions, such as universities and libraries, that, so far, has not been a part of the Gilbert and Ilitch agenda,” he said.
That's not a "good thing" or "bad thing" per se--there isn't a whole lot of philanthropy among any of Detroit's larger business communities, and the real estate business in Detroit is a down-and-dirty enterprise--but it doesn't necessarily speak well of the community that we're willing to leave properties undeveloped for decades to further capitalize upon long-term goals.
Reflecting on the Gilbert and Ilitch enterprises, George Jackson, the outgoing president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., said, “I’d like to have about five more of each. Both are putting the redevelopment of the city on steroids.”
Jackson noted an important difference in development styles between the two camps.
Gilbert tends to act aggressively, seizing opportunities and buying dozens of buildings in a short time. The Ilitches are much more deliberative, taking years of study before moving ahead with a plan like the arena and entertainment district.
Again, not "good or bad." Gilbert is in the real estate business, and positive PR is essential for the business of loaning people money; the Ilitches run a pizza empire, a food service distribution company, entertainment venues and pro sports teams, so their "services" have a greater day-to-day impact.
There are other differences as well. Gilbert has chosen to preserve the iconic architecture that he buys and work within its historic framework. The Ilitches restored the Fox Theatre but mostly have relied on clearance and new construction, which has drawn some criticism over the years.
Also, Gilbert’s developments have required few taxpayer subsidies, while nearly everything that the Ilitch organization has developed has involved public funding of some sort, sometimes in large amounts, as with the arena project.
One thing, though, everyone agrees on when it comes to Gilbert and the Ilitch.
“Both think big,” Jackson said.
Gallagher continues at significant length, and again, we're not talking about people who are dominate their respective specialities due to a strong sense of charity, but that's not very "Detroit" for you. Real estate, sports and entertainment, the pizza business, professional sports and casino gambling aren't warm-and-fuzzy businesses--they are, as Mike Babcock might put it, "ultracompetitive" industries, and the city, county and region haven't fostered an atmosphere in which anything less than cut-throat business acumen and a willingness to get dirty in a dirty city lead to success...For over 40 years now.
You and I getting into a debate as to what massive business empires and the billionaires who run them "owe" their communities, that's not exactly hockey blog territory, and that kind of discussion gets inherently political. My background and upbringing influence political philosophies that are probably very different from yours, and I don't mean any disrespect because I simply think "differently."
I'd prefer to stick to hockey...But to me, it's been very hard to cheer for the Ilitches as they've created dozens and dozens of Limited-Liability shadow companies to accumulate real estate for the past 20 years, in no small part to weather the fact that they weren't going to get any sort of private-public partnership done while the Mayor's office, City Council and County were dirtier than Zug Island.
A little federal intervention's at least ameliorated the amount of money that the City requires business entities to stuff into the pockets of elected officials and elected officials' business interests to get s*** done, and this post-Federal-prosecution atmosphere gives the Ilitches their most honest shot to build a real project that applies the lessons learned during the renovation of the Fox, operation of the Joe and Cobo Arena (it does bear mentioning that the Ilitches had a third entertainment venue which they surrendered to the city for the city's profit's sake) and the building of the MotorCity Casino and Comerica Park, all in order to build a "deconstructed" arena district that finally moves away from the Casino-style "keep the money within the walls" model...
But again, it was hard to see all that land remain vacant for so very long. It benefits Dan Gilbert's money-lending and occasionally foreclosing-upon-customers mortgage business to develop what he purchases, and with Gilbert's biggest Big Boy's Toy serving as something of a villain in professional sports terms, the less prickly the public face of his organization, the better. It's his business, too, not a family one, so he's about Dan Gilbert's vision, not that of a family of companies with sometimes competing business interests and a family of individuals who have their own ambitions, and it takes a massive effort to get all the arms of the octopus moving in the same direction.
One could very well argue that the Ilitches have been looking to find a way to build a better Joe Louis Arena since they were entrusted with the child of Bruce Norris's attempt to strong-arm Coleman Young into hastily averting a suburban Red Wings relocation, and the fact that it's taken thirty years to do so isn't "on the Ilitches," especially given that they bought Tigers and had to give them a better home, given that they wanted in on the casino business and given that the concert and pizza businesses have experienced vast ups and downs while the City's government bumbled its way along.
All of that being said, and having been raised by a father who told me how unbelievably corrupt the City and Wayne County were, it's still hard to know that I'm going to be 39 when the rink opens, and that it will take at least another half-decade, construction timelines be damned, for the "District Detroit" to fulfill its potential (and that's assuming that we don't have to endure another massive regional or federal recession).
Competing business and sporting enterprises have always yielded questions as to which Ilitch enterprise "comes first," and which "team" is currently Mr. Ilitch's darling, so the fickle world of sports fandom is most certainly always a losing PR game.
This is probably the earliest any of us could have hoped for Ilitch Holdings, the City of Detroit, Wayne County and the State of Michigan to coordinate and cooperate upon what should be a city-changing, once-in-a-lifetime collaboration. It still seems like an interminable wait, however, and the entire project still seems so fraught with a government that's likely to stick its fingers into the ancillary development that my expectations for the "District Detroit" are a little less than wildly optimistic.
I hope the rink/entertainment district enterprise works out. I hope that both projects fulfill its potential. I understand that in the end, this is business, and I do not begrudge Ilitch Holdings, Olympia Entertainment, the Red Wings or the Ilitches their desire to make lots and lots of money from the pair of projects.
I'm also glad that Michiganders won't have to hold their tongues before comparing the amount of undeveloped and vacant real estate the Ilitches have been sitting upon to the massive blight created but never redeveloped by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, whose desire to build a second bridge span (a second span that Windsor doesn't want funneling more truck traffic into the the city) has left so much of Southwestern Detroit simply unloved in, and whose baffling ambitions regarding the Detroit Central Depot a now-secure, now-lighted but still-empty hulk. Some businesses are at least aware of the fact that public opinion's winds blow upon them, and in the court of public opinion, the Ilitches have a tremendous opportunity to raise their profile from, "Better than Moroun" to "Near-Carnegie Level."
I hope that the rink and entertainment district allow them to reach said level of near-philanthropic grace, but hockey is won on the ice, and this kind of publicly-subsidized development's tale is told in its eventual effects upon and use by the general and paying public. So we get to spend the next three years waiting, watching, and hoping.
In actual or nearly on-ice news, it may be for appearance's sake, but it was good to read that Danny DeKeyser's joined Tomas Tatar in the, "Talks are far apart? Or, 'Ongoing?' Yeah, but don't worry, we're going to sign contracts by training camp, we won't hold out as restricted free agents" category (and I think suggestions that DeKeyser should earn at least $3 million a season on his next contract are a little...optimistic);
I can only shake my head and say, "Where were you when you when Ken Holland told us at the beginning of this month?" regarding The Score and "Sens Shot's" surprise at the fact that Daniel Alfredsson will wait until September to determine whether he's healthy enough to continue his playing career;
I am not familiar with the gents from Sports Illustrated affiliate 120 Sports, so I can't say the same (positive or negative) regarding Mike Babcock's status as possibly "scaring away free agents." It seems like when you're talking to a former NFL'er about an NHL coach, you might be comparing coaching apples to coaching kumquats;
In the public appearance vein, part 1: MGoBlog's James Burrill Angell reports that Luke Glendening will throw out the first pitch at the Tigers' game against San Francisco on September 5th;
In the public appearance vein, part 2: The Detroit News's Leonard N. Fleming reports that the M-1 Rail project will begin construction on Monday, but that the official groundbreaking ceremony will take place on September 15th. I'd imagine that we will see the Ilitches "break ground" on the rink project in September as well;
In the public appearance vein, part 3: I believe that former Red Wings assistant coach and current Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters speaks for his former non-Babcock coaches and players regarding the preferential reaction to HBO's 24/7 cameras' presence in the Wings' locker room last September, as related to the Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander:
Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters was an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings last season when the HBO crew rolled in to tape the “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” series.
The HBO cameras were everywhere, it seemed, but Peters wound up with scant on-air time.
“I hid, for sure,” Peters said, smiling. “There’s more interesting people than me to interview and spend time with, so I did a good job of staying out of the way.”
The more time that passes between last December's crappy on-ice record and the off-ice intrigue or lack thereof, the more I hear that HBO's presence was invasive, disruptive, and that the atmosphere regarding the crew was less then, "Oh well, cameras are in here, let's do our jobs" and more like, "Aw, shit, I have to be careful, I don't want to be the next Ilya Bryzgalov."
That much makes me happy that the Blackhawks and Capitals (again) have to endure HBO for a month this upcoming season;
In the public appearance vein, part 4: The Pittsburgh Penguins have hired a coach with no NHL experience in Mike Johnston and it's pretty certain that GM Jim Rutherford isn't pulling the personnel strings, but the Penguins' cachet was enough to convince Christian Ehrhoff to spurn a long-term contract offer from the Red Wings to play with Crosby, Malkin, and fellow Germans Marcel Goc and Thomas Greiss.
Today, the Free Press's Helene St. James begins her survey of Metropolitian Division teams' offseason changes and 2014-2015 season outlooks by assessing the Penguins:
[Jim] Rutherford has been busy: He traded James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, signed UFA defenseman Christian Ehrhoff for one year at $4 million and also signed feisty forward Steve Downie.
The big departures — besides Neal, the team’s fourth-leading scorer — were on defense as both Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik bolted for the Washington Capitals. Forward Jussi Jokinen is also gone.
This is a team that still boasts Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as dynamic a duo as there is in hockey. Hornqvist, a right-shot winger, is a nice addition to a top-six mix that also includes Chris Kunitz (Ferris State) and Pascal Dupuis. Ehrhoff — who took a one-year deal with Pittsburgh in the hope that playing on such an offensively gifted team would pump up his numbers for a longer-term deal — joins a defense headlined by Kris Letang and Paul Martin, along with Olli Maatta, who put up 29 points in 78 games as a 19-year-old rookie.
Marc-Andre Fleury retains his duties in goal.
St. James continues and suggests that the Penguins should win the "Metro" again.
In prospect news, Octopus Thrower's Peter Fish concludes his three-part conversation with Dylan Larkin today. As Peter notes, Larkin spent the Wings' summer development camp constantly fielding questions as to whether he was going to forego his college career with the University of Michigan to turn pro immediately, but the 17-year-old (he turns 18 on the 30th) dismissed those suggestions:
Larkin said, “Just because I see where I am now and I know where I am. Most people that ask that question have never seen me play, so they just kind of expect that and I don’t feel pressure, I feel people are rooting me on.”
Dylan Larkin knows there are areas he needs to work on and that he will be spending two or three-year at the University of Michigan. I am impressed by Larkin’s ability to step back and recognize that what some people might be saying about him might not be accurate, but take it as a compliment and feel they are rooting him on.
Amongst the Free Press's Steve Schrader's "Ticker" questions...
When are Detroit’s most unpopular players going to get the discredit they deserve? In other words, who would you vote for in that kind of poll?
Joey Harrington? A good kid for sure, but he symbolizes all that was wrong with the Matt Millen era. Lions fans will never forgive him (although there were lots of other candidates from those days).
Sergei Fedorov? Red Wings fans already had an up-and-down relationship with him that got worse when he tried to go to the Hurricanes and really went south when he bolted for the Ducks.
Or pick a Wings goalie, any Wings goalie.
Bobby Higginson? He once was a favorite, but then fans resented that big contract that turned out to be a drag on the Tigers. Or maybe Tigers fans would vote for one of their recent relievers. Or Brandon Inge.
Charlie Villanueva? To Pistons fans, he symbolizes Joe Dumars’ shrewd spending on free agents.
That’s just to name a few. Any other nominees?
Mikael Samuelsson, Brett Lebda, Curtis Joseph, Dominik Hasek, Marian Hossa...
And his "News Quiz":
Why does Mike Babcock want to introduce statistical analysis to the Red Wings organization?
A) He thinks it’s the wave of the future, and he doesn’t want to be left behind.
B) To give Don Cherry something else to gripe about.
C) Maybe it can figure out what’s going on with his hair.
D) Must … eliminate … human … emotion … from … hockey.
Bad word choice (diction is everything in writing!). Babcock doesn't want to "introduce statistical analysis to the Red Wings organization"--the Wings have been crunching numbers since stats have been kept, and they keep their own stats for the most part--but he's looking to hire a dedicated person to work on "advanced" statistics.
The Wings have a team statistician, but he spends his time in the press box. Keith McKittrick is the Wings' dedicated video coordinator (and an assistant coach), and I'd imagine that the Wings will look to find someone who can consult with the coaches and players on a real-or-nearly-real-time basis.
And finally, as a reminder: I will be going on vacation from August 2nd to 9th, and this week will involve errands and appointments that will lead up to the 375-mile trip up to the Upper Peninsula to take part in the second week of my family's annual two-week vacation. During that time I'm leaning toward checking in every other day instead of spending two hours writing an overnight report every dang night during my vacation. I hope that's OK with you.
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.