From USA Today – 82-year-old Mike Ilitch, owner of the Tigers and Red Wings is fervently trying to resurrect life in his hometown of Detroit.
His downtown office might be surrounded by poverty and despair on the streets, but when Ilitch looks outside all he sees is resurrection and revival. Once the fourth-largest city in the country, Detroit lost 25% of its residents in the last decade, and nearly one-quarter of its homes are unoccupied. But he thinks his city will return to prominence.
Ilitch and his wife, Marian, are worth about $2 billion, but he realizes it will take more than money for the city to fully recover. It will likely take more years than he has left. Yet he has a baseball team ready to jump-start the movement.
The Tigers, off to a 5-1 start and loaded with superstars Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, might just be the entity to help repair a city’s self-esteem.
“I want to win the World Series,” Ilitch, the son of Macedonian immigrants, tells USA TODAY Sports in a rare interview. “But not for me. For our community. Baseball has such a tremendous effect on a city. It would bring so much joy. It would mean everything.”
Ilitch is synonymous with Detroit. He owns Little Caesars Pizza. The Fox Theatre. Joe Louis Arena. Motor City Casino. The family holdings alone are responsible for bringing 10 million people into downtown every year, and his sports teams are worth an annual economic impact of $443 million, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber.
“If not for Mike Ilitch,” says Emmett Moten, director of economic development for late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, “there may not be a Detroit.
“He believed in us at a time when the city was fighting for survival. He brought the Tigers downtown and got the Lions to come along with him. He brought Fox Theatre back to life. If we didn’t have all of that, what would Detroit have? I’m afraid we’d have nothing.”
Says Bud Selig, Major League Baseball commissioner: “What Mike Ilitch has done for that city, sociologically, is stunning. Here is an owner that understood the social responsibilities as well as anybody could. Not everything might have been in his best interest, but it was in the best interest of Detroit and Michigan.
“It’s hard to articulate just how much the Tigers mean to Detroit.”