Detroit Freshens Up for the Super Bowl

Detroit is sporting clean streets, new businesses and a sense of vibrancy. Much of America had written off the Motor City, but as Quinn Klinefelter of Detroit Public Radio reports, the city began burnishing its image after being awarded the Super Bowl.

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DEBBIE ELLIOT, host:

Tomorrow, Detroit, a city that has struggled amid economic decline, hosts Super Bowl XL. Fans of the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers will see there's a new look to downtown Detroit. There are clean streets, new businesses and a sense of vibrancy. Quinn Klinefelter of Detroit Public Radio reports, city residents are wondering, will it last once the Super Bowl is over?

Mr. QUINN KLINEFELTER (Reporter, Detroit Public Radio): In the race to clean up Detroit for the Super Bow, nothing was sacred, not even the city's landmarks. Some groups wanted to preserve this building from the bulldozers. It's the former headquarters of Motown records, but the city wanted the lots of Super Bowl parking. It's a necessary tradeoff, mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said in his recent inauguration address, because he says Detroit's future hinges on this single football game.

Mayor KWAME KILPATRICK (City of Detroit): In truth, the game is not nearly as important as all the events that go on around the game. Those events will give us a platform to start changing the image of the city of Detroit around this nation and around this world. Only 12 cities in the history of the NFL have ever hosted a Super Bowl. This is our shot.

KLINEFELTER: Ever since the NFL awarded Detroit the coveted Super Bowl in 2000, the city has spent millions of dollars burnishing Detroit's downtown storefronts and roadways. Even a few days before the big game, entrepreneurs were still working to turn long abandoned buildings into upscale clubs for the glitterati.

(Soundbite of construction)

A dance floor goes up in the once empty Manufacturer's Bank building, now known as the Vault. REM Marketing Group leased and renovated the building to host four high profile parties including the first Super Bowl shindig ever held by Penthouse Magazine. REM President, Rick Rachner, says there's no better exposure for his company.

Mr. RICK RACHNER(President, REM): You know, the whole world turns to it, the celebrities, the athletes show up for it, all the parties are top notch, I mean, these are not hundred dollar parties, these are 500-2,0000 dollar per person parties.

KLINEFELTER: Rachner's sunk almost a million dollars into the building and hopes to earn about double that over the weekend. But beyond that...

Mr. RACHNER: As of today, we'll pull everything out of here and the venue will go back to the way it was four or five moths ago, sitting vacant. So we're basically doing all this work for four nights right now.

KLINEFELTER: The Vault joins dozens of other instant clubs and entire downtown streets covered with heated tents filled with football fans. So far, the reviews are mostly good.

Mr. GARY THOMPSON (Baltimore resident):I love this city man, it's great, except I can't find Greek Don's Casino.

KLINEFELTER: Gary Thompson is just in from Baltimore, armed with an official Super Bowl XL football already half-filled with autographs. Thompson lived near Detroit a few years ago, but he says the current mix of Motown reviews and football carnival is far cry from the blighted downtown he remembered.

Mr. THOMSPON: It looks spruced up. I love the atmosphere, like Christmas, man, yeah. It's like a Christmas-type atmosphere but for the Super Bowl, you know what I mean? It's great, I love it.

KLINEFELTER: A positive image, city officials argue, will equal greater investment, something Detroit badly needs. It has the highest unemployment rate of any big city in the nation other than hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.

A few blocks from the football festivities, Detroiter Catherine Jones(ph) walks past roughly 70 new storefronts. About 50 of them are scheduled to disappear shortly after the final fan exits Ford Field. Jones wonders just how far-reaching the sheen of the Super Bowl will be.

Ms. CATHERINE JONES (Detroit resident): Well, the Super Bowl is nice as its coming, but what is it gonna do for the neighborhood? Where's the money when they get finished with it? Is it gonna trickle down into the neighborhood or is it gonna stay downtown in somebody's big pockets?

KLINEFELTER: The mayor says that the city doesn't have a great image outside of Detroit and this will make it better and more people will...

Ms. JONES: Well, then, bring it to the neighborhoods so my home and my neighborhood can improve. I'd like to see some niceness too.

KLINEFELTER: The NFL estimates the Super Bowl will pump 300 million dollars into metro Detroit. But some economists put the figure closer to 30 million. It's worth many more time that to city and civic officials, if the Super Bowl helps the nation think of the Motor City as a shiny new model and not a junker slated for the scrap yard. For NPR News, I'm Quinn Klinefelter in Detroit.

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