Ed Driscoll

Nuke the Site from Orbit

It’s the only way to be sure. But first, from the department of terrible timing:

After five years of virtual silence during the region’s economic free fall, Detroit is on the verge of mounting a major marketing push to reestablish the city as a host of state and national meetings and conventions.

“Detroit, America’s Great Comeback City” will be the tagline for the new campaign, to launch around July 1 with national TV, radio and print ads, plus social media outreach. It’s the first national sales pitch in five years, but this time it’s built on existing momentum, including a 68% increase in hotel night stays from 2011-2012.

There’s also the $300-million expansion and upgrade of Cobo Center to brag about and some impressive already-booked business to build upon.

Here’s a sample of the ad campaign, via PJTV alumnus Steven Crowder:

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At the American Enterprise Institute, James Pethokoukis surveys the rubble and asks, “Must there always be a Detroit?”

Good luck returning Detroit to what it once was through government-created innovation hubs. “I haven’t found one example of an innovation hub in the US that has been created by deliberate policy that says, ‘We’re going to create an innovation hub here,’” Moretti says. Instead of a top-down effort, better to create the organic conditions that will draw those smart, wealthy, entrepreneurial folks Glaeser writes about — especially immigrants — to Detroit. Maybe turning Detroit into a sort of Hong Kongesque tax haven — one with decent schools and safe streets — to encourage startups and a more diverse economic base than relying on one manufacturing sector. At best it will be a long slog with no guarantee of success, but the odds will be a lot better with policies that invest in people rather than things.

Read the whole thing, which explores how Detroit’s politicians in the ’70s and ’80s decided that if they spent taxpayer dollars, in classic Soviet or Galbraithian top-down style, on the right building projects — the sports arenas, the skyscraper office complex, the monorail (paging Phil Hartman!) — somehow it would inspire the people they governed. (And/or produce sufficient kickbacks to grease everyone’s palms.) We can see how well that all worked out simply by reading yesterday’s bankruptcy headlines. Or as Shikha Dalmia writes in the Washington Examiner, “Until the city’s politicos treat its humble entrepreneurs with the same respect they show big investors, Motown’s second act will never arrive:”

Every mayor for the last two decades has tried to jump-start Detroit by reviving its crumbling downtown. In the 1990s, Dennis Archer erected stadiums and casinos. His successor, Kwame Kilpatrick (now serving time on federal extortion and racketeering charges) hosted mega-events.

The current mayor, Dave Bing, has been too bogged down in Detroit’s fiscal quagmire to propose anything grand. But a group of rich investors led by Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans, is spearheading a massive effort to bring businesses, hotels and residents into the city.

Gilbert has pumped close to $1 billion to relocate his headquarters in Detroit and scoop up real estate for stores, hotels and apartment buildings. Whole Foods recently followed suit as did Moosejaw, a retailer for outdoor apparel.

But these ventures have been seduced by massive subsidies. Whole Foods’ local partner received $5.8 million in state and local grants as well as sizable tax credits. Still, the business editor of Forbes declared two years ago that, thanks to Gilbert, green shoots were beginning to sprout in Detroit.

Since then, however, things have only gotten worse as more residents have fled and city services have deteriorated. Why? Because these shoots were Astroturf, not a spontaneous response to actual need. Worse, they were a wealth transfer from the average taxpayers to the rich who patronize these high-end stores.

Indeed, even as Forbes was praising Detroit’s artificial green shoots, city regulations were busy nipping the real ones like Pink FlamInGo, a Latin-fusion food vendor responding to real market demand.

These regulations barred street vendors from selling any hot fare except hotdogs (but without sauerkraut) and that only in 16 approved locations. Pink FlamInGo built a roaring business by ignoring these rules — until the city shut it down.

Perhaps Jim Geraghty has the best solution, with another dystopian ’80s  sci-fi reference to tie things back to our headline above: “Detroit Is Bankrupt. Time to Turn the Whole Thing Over to Omni Consumer Products.”

Update: Rest easy America, as CBS Detroit reports, “Kevyn Orr: Howdy Doody Not For Sale In Detroit’s Bankruptcy.”