In one week, Little Caesars Arena will open. Six concerts over 8 nights. By one of Detroit’s ‘superstars.’
No, not Aretha, Stevie, Smokey or any of the other greats who have roots here. Not Alice Cooper or adopted son Peter Wolf of the J. Giles Band. Not the man who should be opening the arena, either. (more on him in a minute)
No, the performer who is opening the $850 million new home for the Red Wings and Pistons is none other than Robert Ritchie, aka Kid Rock. Yes, the same Kid Rock who is mulling a run for US Senate next year against Debbie Stabenow, a two-term incumbent. The same Kid Rock who sold drugs as a teenager in Mount Clemons. The same Kid Rock who would join the Howling Diablos at the Bear’s Den in Berkley, Michigan (you had to be there — and I was) and embrace the Confederate flag, until it became an issue and after he donated $50,000 to the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, who then said “I love America, I love Detroit and I love black people!”
Um, no. He doesn’t. In a 2015 profile in Rolling Stone, he uses the N-word so many times, it’s unsettling. He lives in rural Alabama “Welcome to L.A. (Lower Alabama)” he tells his profiler and talks of his (mostly) true past.
This is a man who wants to be remembered like Bob Seger, but hangs around with Hank Williams, Jr., Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin and of course, the So-Called President*.
Now, if I’m the Ilitch family (owner of the publicly-funded stadium — thanks Grover), particularly Christopher Ilitch, who took over Olympia Entertainment and Ilitch Holdings last year, the last thing I would want is controversy as I open my new arena. But that’s exactly what he’s going to get.
Detroit is 86% black. Yet, the city pitched in nearly half of the $843 million to get this stadium built. In an editorial in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press, Editorial Writer Stephen Henderson, who is black, pointed out that the Ilitch family likes to make big promises, but rarely are those promises met.
“I say “our” quite purposefully there, because Detroiters — of all hues and beliefs and economic class — have leveraged our financial future, pledging some $324.1 million in future tax dollars — including proceeds from a tax meant to support public schools — to help pay for this $863-million stadium.
We’ve also put our faith in the Ilitch family — again — to come through on the big promises they’ve made about what we would get in return.
That’s not turning out the way we imagined, either.
The Ilitches pledged to ensure that 50% of the work done to construct this arena would go to Detroiters, a modestly fair proffer for all the tax dollars that went in.
But that target was missed by almost half, for many reasons, and $2.9 million in fines were levied against the companies who landed arena contracts.
The Ilitches also promised that this arena would be built simultaneously with the other developments that would make up the new District Detroit neighborhood.
This echoed their promise back in the early 1990s surrounding Comerica Park, pitched as a catalyst that would ignite development akin to Wrigleyville on the north side of Chicago.
That never happened, of course, and as the new arena prepares to open, nearly all of the promised development outside of the Ilitch investments — the new Little Caesars headquarters on Woodward, the new Wayne State Business School next to the arena and a slew of parking lots — are still if-come.”
That editorial, along with a planned protest of Rock’s opening show, prompted a statement yesterday from Ilitch Holdings, the umbrella organization for their vast corporation.
“We continue to offer a diverse mix of the world’s best entertainers in our Detroit venues, including artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Jay-Z, Janet Jackson to Shania Twain, Big Sean to Andrea Bocelli and so many more. The politics, choices and personal views of these artists are as varied as the types of music enjoyed by our fans.
“Kid Rock has been a consistent supporter of Detroit, and the marketplace has responded accordingly to his appearances. Performing artists’ viewpoints in no way represent an endorsement of those viewpoints by Olympia Entertainment.”
Twenty years ago, in 1997, the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. The city went nuts. But there was a letter to the editor in the Free Press from a black resident ruefully pointing out that the people celebrating were all white and that blacks didn’t care about the Red Wings. Which, of course, isn’t true, but the attitude and resentment of the 86 percent is still there.
There is also the politics of the Ilitch family involved here. Christopher Ilitch, who, at the groundbreaking of the arena, endorsed Governor Rick Snyder — “I think he’s a terrific governor,” he said at the ceremony. Denise Ilitch, the oldest of the family’s seven children, is a Democrat who has been encouraged, at times, to run for statewide office. But she has always turned it down and her politics have clashed with those of her brother and strong-willed mother, Marion. Once thought of as the heir to the throne of the kingdom, she remains out of the loop in the family’s pecking order.
That Robert Ritchie is opening this arena isn’t the issue here. The issue here is the optics. Kid Rock, who is now 47 and a grandfather, still thinks he’s 25 and doing gigs at the Bear’s Den with the Howling Diablos and getting away with saying “F-ck Colin Kaepernick!!!!” at his shows, is. Going to the White House and posing with Palin, Nugent and the Orange Nutcase is amusing, but standing in front of a portrait of Hillary Clinton while grabbing your crotch is an insult and Ilitch and his family should realize that it is not only insulting to Detroiters, but to women and decent people who might not like Mrs. Clinton, or her politics, but still know it’s low and crass. I won’t post those pictures, but they’re out there.
Ritchie, who’s dad owned a chain of car dealerships, has always wanted to be accepted like Bob Seger, but his ego and attitude are the antithesis of Seger. Yet, he and Seger have a friendship. Funny thing is, though, that Bob (Seger) has never been a divisive figure, or a potential Senate candidate, like Kid Rock is considering.
Lets get one thing straight: Ritchie will never, ever replace Seger. Old Bob could drop dead tomorrow and he’d still be revered in Michigan. If Ritchie died, I don’t think there’d be the same kind of mourning (same with Nugent). It’s just that way. I have always called Ritchie “Lower case Bob,” because to me, there’s only one Bob and that’s Seger.
Which brings us to the end. As the new arena opens next week, the “old” arena in Auburn Hills will officially close on September 23. The final show will be Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, a fitting end to an arena, although out of the way, was a decent venue to watch a concert.
It is both fitting and poignant that Seger is closing the Palace. In doing so, he is ringing out an era where Detroit had three decent venues to choose from to go see Seger, U2, the Stones, Paul McCartney and others — Joe Louis Arena, The Palace and Cobo Arena (who Seger made famous a few years back ;) ), who met the wrecking ball a few years ago, as will the other two. Every year, Detroit ranked in the top 5 for concert revenue. The agreement between the Pistons/Palace owners and Olympia Entertainment stipulates that only Little Caesars Arena will be made available for concerts.
“The District Detroit” is a nice thought, but it will, more than likely, take a lot longer to become reality for the Ilitch family to realize than just a concept. But whatever ultimately this section of the Cass Corridor turns out to be, it isn’t getting off to the grand, smooth opening they’d hoped their showpiece would bring.