Bait and Switch? Little Caesars Arena Falls Short on Detroit Workers

Eli Newman / WDET

Groundbreaking ceremony at the site of Little Caesars Arena.

Every time a big construction project begins in Detroit, the developers agree to hire more than 50 percent city residents to construct the buildings. But it’s also been true that most of these projects run into problems meeting that threshold.

Last week we learned some contractors working on the Little Caesars Arena didn’t meet that 51 percent mark, and have been hit with fines.

There was already a big uproar over tax incentives being spent on this new arena, and now we know the builders aren’t honoring the promises made to Detroiters. Is this a bait-and-switch? Why does this continue to happen in the city? And is it time to re-think the way Detroit handles these kinds of deals?

Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson speaks with a number of people who are intimately familiar with this project and how development deals work in Detroit. First, he talks with Louis Aguilar, reporter with the Detroit News, who has been covering this and other development projects in Detroit for some time.

Jake Neher/WDET

Detroit News Reporter Louis Aguilar

The numbers… were not great,” says Aguilar. “Twenty-seven percent of the hours worked at the site, on average, are done by Detroiters.”

The conversation continues with Douglass Diggs, President & CEO of The Diggs Group Heritage LLC

His economic development consulting firm was hired to help contractors hire Detroiters to work on Little Caesars Arena.

Everybody knew you couldn’t get to 51 percent,” Diggs said in an interview prior to his appearance on Detroit Today. But he says there was a real, honest effort to hire as many Detroiters as possible.


When Olympia received the bond financing, one of the first things that the Ilitch team said was, who is going to make sure that Detroit minorities and women are involved in the building of this arena? How do we make sure it’s Detroit-built, Michigan-made?” Diggs tells Henderson on Detroit Today.

Henderson also speaks with Damon Tooles, President & CEO of Tooles Contracting Group based in Detroit. 

Jake Neher/WDET

Contractor Damon Tooles (left) with development consultant Douglass Diggs (right)

Tooles Contracting has had several contracts on Little Caesars Arena. Tooles says he was one of the few contractors who was actually able to hire more than 51 percent of his crew members from Detroit, except for a short period of time during the construction. 

It was a tough thing to do,” says Tooles. “No doubt, the unions are decimated with skilled trades.” He says the key is training new people on every job and building a sustainable workforce over time.

Little Caesars Arena… it’s one project of many between Midtown and Downtown, so we’ve got to expand the conversation to all of these other large projects that are going on,” says Tooles.

There’s quite a few trade people working between Downtown Detroit and Midtown, and we need to make sure that the same thing is happening on those projects.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

Jerome Vaughn

Construction on Little Caesars Arena late last year.

 

Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

This post is a part of How's Detroit Doing?.

With voices, data, news, and experiences, WDET is answering the question "How's Detroit Doing?" Find a collection of responses at howsdetroitdoing.org. If you have a question about how Detroit's doing, ask it here.


Support for WDET's work with The Detroit Journalism Cooperative comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism’s Michigan Reporting Initiative and the Ford Foundation.

  

 

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