Detroit jumps gun on Pistons moving to Detroit with $34M tax subsidy


Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Pistons were so certain the basketball team was moving to Detroit that they held a press conference to announce the deal.

What Duggan didn’t mention is that the city must hold a series of public meetings to determine whether residents even want to pay $34.5 million in taxes to billionaire Pistons owner Tom Gores as an incentive.

Duggan and some city council members have been meeting behind closed doors to negotiate the deal with Gores, whose current net worth is $3.9 billion.

Pistons press conference with Mayor Duggan, Chris Ilitch and Tom Gores.
Pistons press conference with Mayor Duggan, Chris Ilitch and Tom Gores.

During the press conference, Duggan initially said the deal was “preliminary,” but later said with confidence, “It’s going to happen.”

Gores also expressed certainty, saying “We’re going to get this done.”

That’s a smack in the face to Detroiters who have yet to be heard on the issue. Many Detroiters opposed the city using $285 million in taxes to get billionaire Mike Ilitch to build a new Red Wings arena. Ilitch’s subcontractors didn’t make good on their promise to ensure that at least 51% of the construction workers lived in Detroit.

As of 6 p.m., our Twitter poll showed that 75% of respondents opposed the tax subsidy.

The city did its best to keep the Pistons deal a secret and even refused to tell the media and public about the subsidy on Monday before today’s Downtown Development Authority meeting on the issue.

The city council also must approve the deal after a public hearing. But Duggan’s certainty that the Pistons will receive the subsidy raises questions about whether council members privately agreed to spend the money, which would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act. At least two council members were part of the negotiations.

Under the deal, the Pistons would move into the Red Wings arena and begin playing in 2017.

Motor City Muckraker is an independent, ad-free watchdog that relies on donations. Your contribution will help us continue serving as a watchdog who answers to no one but the public.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.