Detroit getting ready for big week
City intent on shining, changing image during All-Star Week
When the All-Star fan ballot was released in April, Detroit civic leaders gathered with Tigers and Major League Baseball officials to celebrate the return of the Midsummer Classic to the Motor City. At the press conference, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick looked to baseball officials in attendance and gave them a simple promise.
"We won't let you down," Kilpatrick said.
With a week to go until the All-Star Game and just two days before All-Star festivities begin with FanFest, the city is ready to open its front door, welcome company to the party and hear from visitors how the place looks.
"It's a reward for our fans," said All-Star Week liaison Michael Healy, who has been the Tigers' point man on planning the biggest event to hit downtown Detroit in years. "But it's also critical exposure for the city and the region to the world. You can't buy that exposure. That's why it's critical we step forward."
The All-Star Game slogan "This One Counts" refers to home-field advantage in the World Series for the winning league. This year, it also works pretty well for the city hosting it. After years of battling an old image in national and international mind-sets, Detroiters have simultaneously developed a thick skin and a quick defense mechanism. They endured the late-night jokes from Jay Leno for years, but forced a retraction and apology from Jimmy Kimmel last year when he suggested residents would riot if the Pistons won the NBA title.
Now, Detroit has its best chance in years to further change its image, right in the heart of the city. Dmitri Young, for one, hopes it can take advantage.
"The Pistons kind of put Detroit back on the map," he said. "Now having the All-Star Game and the Super Bowl coming up and then the Final Four, people are starting to look at Detroit trying to revive itself. If the rest of the U.S. is ready for Detroit to be revived, I think the city should try to revive itself. People do want to come here."
With the exception of FanFest, much of the All-Star action will take place in the Fox Theatre district that has become the example of Detroit's renaissance ever since Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch bought and refurbished the theater in the late 1980s. What used to be a run-down area north of the Detroit River now houses the theater, the city's opera house, the Tigers and the Lions within little more than a mile-long span.
"People who think [poorly] of Detroit will be surprised by what downtown has to offer," Healy said. "There's a lot going on down here."
Area residents are taking an active part in making sure that message is relayed, from acting as hosts to doing some simple housecleaning. More than 1,000 volunteers scoured downtown last month to pick up litter and clean streets and sidewalks as part of the All-Star Super Makeover. Downtown businesses and building owners will do their part in one last cleanup Thursday by tidying the areas around their locations.
More than 500 people will serve as ambassadors, helping visitors learn their way around the various All-Star activities as well as find dining and entertainment options around town. More than 1,000 folks will help out with FanFest, the volunteer-heaviest event of the All-Star experience.
On the highways, the city, counties and Michigan Department of Transportation are trying their best to spare visitors the summer construction headaches. With a couple exceptions, most of the downtown construction work will be cleared, including the ongoing improvements around Cobo Center.
With more hotel rooms available in the outlying areas, many visitors will be experiencing Detroit like many locals do: commuting. For those driving or taking shuttles into downtown, the Michigan Department of Transportation has either completed, cleaned up or put on hold most of its Interstate construction efforts in the city. That includes the critical portion of I-94 that serves as the connector not only between downtown and Detroit Metro Airport, but downtown and many hotels in Dearborn.
The Tigers, too, are in the final days of their season-long effort to spruce up Comerica Park for the national spotlight. The outfield walls gradually went from a standard green to a more festive blue and orange with a baseball design. Hallways, walkways, gathering areas, even clubhouses have been repainted and/or recarpeted. Just last week, the Tigers moved a historic plaque honoring Ty Cobb from Tiger Stadium to the Montcalm Street side of their current home.
The final touches will make Detroit's skyline a sight for fans as they look out from the ballpark. A temporary design on the Renaissance Center -- the big glass tower with the GM logo on it out beyond center field -- depicts a giant baseball shattering the glass near the top. In addition, the city hopes to light up the skyline by encouraging those who work in the corresponding buildings to leave on their lights on July 10-12.
The Tigers know something about selling people on Detroit, having spent the last couple winters trying to recruit free agent players and sell them on the city. If all goes well, the team and others hope the city sells itself.
"I think America is ready to see this place turned around," Young said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.