By contrast, much of southwest Detroit is owned by Matty Moroun, best known for being the only person to own a major American border crossing, and most of downtown north of Adams Street is owned by Mike Ilitch. Ilitch, who made his fortune founding the Little Caesars Pizza chain, operates in a manner that is more old-fashioned slumlord. Ilitch buys property, often secretly, and lets it decay, so that it brings down the value of the property around it. Then he buys the neighboring property, and lets it run down too, so that he can buy even more property, until he’s amassed enough blighted property to go for the end stage.
The end stage is persuading the city to put up enough funding so that he can raze the entire area and put in the kind of flagship property — most recently, a new Red Wings stadium surrounded by market-rate housing and retail — that shakes down the big redevelopment dollars. When I arrive, the 45 blocks that have been cleared for the new project, called District Detroit, is an impossibly long stretch of rubble, with a billboard hovering over it. “Imagine,” the billboard says, “a place.”
I talked to one Detroit resident who had loaned $20,000 to a friend who had bought a house, but couldn’t carry out the renovations the house needed. Now the friend was moving, and he was trying to buy the house he’d helped rehab — but he had just been turned down for a loan to do so by Quicken. Building a house on farmland at the edge of the suburbs is still considered a safer bet than building or rehabbing a building within Detroit’s borders.
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