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The Refs Missed This One! (the Great Pontiac Stadium Ripoff & How Yor're Paying For It)

The Refs Missed This One! (the Great Pontiac Stadium Ripoff & How Yor're Paying For It) image The Refs Missed This One! (the Great Pontiac Stadium Ripoff & How Yor're Paying For It) image The Refs Missed This One! (the Great Pontiac Stadium Ripoff & How Yor're Paying For It) image
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As you settle into your seat at the new Pontiac politan Stadium ber 9 to watch the Lions face Cleveland, considenhe lowing: you may never again be party to so colossal a rip-off. Although at one time both Detroit and Pontíac saw the building ufa new stadium as the key to economie rebirth for their cities, it's now apparent that Detroit's loss in lts stadium bid was hardly Pontiac's gain. rar trom the civic commercial bonanza some predicted it would be, the S55.7 million stadium will soak millions of taxpayers to benefit a privileged few - SUCh as Lions owner William Clay Ford, Henry's millionaire grandson, and Harold Cousins, chairman of the Pontiat Stadium Building Authority, who reapêd enormous profits f rom land he around the stadium. Ihe tacility will be used pnmarily by the white suburbanites targeted in the Lions' own market studies as able to afford the $10-a-throw football tickets, and will be paid for, in large part, by people who may never even see the stadium. Yes, fans, it's a classic case of the have-nots subsidizing the haves. If the stadium runs into monev problems.a SI 5.95 million tab will be picked up by the blue collar, working class taxpayers of Pontiac -as a result of a suspicious December 1972 election in which a scant 17 per cent of the city's registered voters turned out to okay general obligalion bonds by less than 300 votes. And a number of outsiders predict financia] woes tbr the facility. "There's no possible way tliat a single-purpose stadium like that can ever pay tor ítselr, says Torn Adams, who was chairman of the Waync County Stadium Authoiity that worked for a footbali-baseball stadium löcationin Detroit. Whether or not the 80,500-seat stadium encounters such difficulties, i ígan taxpayers may end up torking over S24 million in public subsidies to the stadium, depending on the otitcome of a pending lawsuit. This sterns from the state legislature's 1972 adoption of a bilí calling Por annual $800,000 payments to the stadium for 30 years, with the funds to come from increased horse betting taxes. Litigation challenging the payments has been initiated by state Representative Dennis Hertel (D-Detroit) and state Senator John Hertel íll-Dcimin Individuals whu have questioned ilie Pontiac election and the stadium subsidv legislation have been intimidated or ignored. Elsie Bigger, a housewife and Pontiac resident of 48 years, is one of several people who challenged the results of the December, 1972 bond issue election and demanded a recount. When she discovered a number of irregularities during recount proceedings, such as broken seals and conflicting tally counts, she was informed that the contents of any envelope which looked as though it had been tampered with could not be recounted. Terming the proceeding "a farce," Bigger joined with other residents in filing snit to block the city from issuing bonds few construction. The case was dismissed by Oakland County circuit judge Arthur E, Moore, who. according to Bigger. was a fiïend of Pontiac Stadium Authority committee member James Clarkson and stadium supporter L. Harvey Lodge. then state Senator. The Bigger bunch appealed. lost. filed a new suit and kept at it until they were slapped with a $10 million lawsuit by Clarkson, the Northeast Oakland Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Pontiac Business Association and a number of Pontiac entrepreneurs who claimed that stadium construction was being unduly delayed. The suit spooked most of Bigger's colleagues into withdrawing from the litigation they initiated. Josh Hebington, one of the initial plaintiffs, confirmed that he withdrew "for my own protection." WaJter Blackman refused to discuss his reasons for dropping out of the case, but Bigger says he complained of threatening phone calis and "outside pressures" just before he withdrew. When Bigger's attorney, James Wells, persisted in filing suits to halt stadium construction, Judge Mooie ordered hini not to bring any more anti-stadium complaints to any Michigan courts. The ruling was upheld by the state court of appeals. The S30 million suit against Bigger and friends then died for lack of act ion. The Hertels' efforts at blocking public QJ W i i & vL '5 r4 'á f p Qj 'C o 'Sa 'o4 & 6 I tf o ti T 1AC subsidies to the stadium have also met with resistance. A Senate bilí which would prohibit any state funds going to stadiums m the future was introduced by John Hertel this year and passed the senate 23-7, but has since been bottled up in the House appropriations committee. Hertel insists the bill was intentionally sent to the wrong committee, as it hardly concerns appropriations. in order to sweep it under the rug. "Vm eer tam the fact that there are influential people involved here has a great deal to do with the outcome." Both brothers decry last year's 4:40 a.m. Senate vote to hand over SI. 6 mi Ilion n state subsides for the stadium. "That's probably why it passed." John Hertel says. "We kept stopping them until then." Dennis Hertel adds, "Many people have told me they didn't know the details of what they were voting on. Many have changed their vote since." Dennis Hertei's amendment to the erants and transfers bill to delete this year's S800.000 subsidy lost in the House by two votes. The appropriation has been approvecl ssF by the House jifa and by a joint committee of the House and Senate. 'When the Detroit Ê l'rcc l'nss takes a poll and tinds tliat 95 per cent of the people oppose state funcls tor the stadium and iheii tlieir Representatives and Senators turn around and vote for it, thcre's something unusual going on, to say the least," says John Hertel. The Hertels' suil calling for an end to state subsidies to the stadium is nuw before the court of aDDeals. Il There have been other instances of public officials turning up their noses at the public while proferring uid to William Ford's enterprise. When the Oakland Coimty Board of Commissioners vetoed use of county money to widen roads near the stadium, the ( ounty Koad Commission (an independent body) suddenly I found that they had a little more money than they thought they did, that initial estimates of road costs were inflated, and that, well, they'd be able to help after all. Meanwhile, many county roads in the west end of the county are deterioratine. Promises about jobs and revenue that would be generated by the " stadium for the ailing city of Pontiac also remain unfulfilled. i "The people of Michigan are putting $24 million into thai stadium and are getting next to nothing in return, not even jOMj" says Robert Alpert. director of organization for the Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant Employees, Cooks and Bartenders Union, Local 24. Alpert says his organization is concerned because most of the people minding shop tor Elias Brothers, the stadium's exclusive concëssionaire, are non-paid members of charity organizutions. An Klias Brothers spokesperson verified tliat the civic groups. and not individual workers, are paid by the company. Furthermore, Pontiac is not benefltine from increased trade, as proponents of the stadium predicted it would. Pontiac urban renewal programs have forced out businesses that wanted to stay. Bigger says, "I can 't see why the stadium will bring people down there [to downtown tiac when there isn t anything there. She thinks most ' stadium patrons go to restaurants in suburban field Hills or Waterford, rather than venturing into Pontiac. Other nearby businesses. sucli as Pine Knob, are reportedJy piqued over having to compele in the concert field with a publicly subsidized enterprise. Ticket and concession prices at the new stadium indícate it was constructed fot ;i more affluent crowd. Tickets are S10 a head, except for the 5.000 bleachet seats. which continued on page 23 STA tot; L L Vfr tfi N J=r A VL c o & sn J5% 1 ft 1 wl 2,1 Pontiac Stadium continued front page 5 go for S4.25 each. (Reserved seats for Lions games in Tiger Stadium were S7.50 and S8.50. and S4 each for the 3,000 bleaclier seats.) The Lions now have the second highest average ticket price in pro football. With the exception of beer, which is a nickel cheaper in Pontiac thanin Detroit, concession prices at the new stadium are almosi universally higher than at Tiger Stadium. But wliile the general populace is being ripped off, the "llaves" in the scenario continue to turn over tidy profits- including Ford, with his increased ticket revenues, and beverage king Cousins, who supplies beer to the stadium. "Bill Ford is in the unique position of mukinga profit off a stadium built for him. without having much of an obligation to it." says Dennis Hertel. Echoes Bigger, "The auto workers, the blue collar men, are the ones doing the work of backing up the stadium while everyone else benefits. It's too bad all the citizens of Pontiac couldn't make out as well as these fellows did." Katlne Nefj is a frce-lancc writcr who j'ormerly workcJ for a suburban Oakland County newspaper.