Sunday’s vibrant atmosphere with the Lions winning, a concert by the acclaimed Andrea Bocelli and Christmas festivities in Campus Martius Park here in downtown Detroit wasn’t planned, but it certainly felt that way.
In a way, it was kind of fitting for Detroit, which days earlier had emerged from the uncertainty of bankruptcy.
Down Woodward Avenue from Grand Circus Park through Campus Martius Park and all along Jefferson Avenue, the Christmas lights illuminated the city’s streets and cast a lovely glow on the grand architecture of Detroit.
There were the Lions fans going to restaurants and bars, the boondoggle People Mover taking concert-goers to Joe Louis Arena and the young families with children skating on the outdoor rink in Campus Martius Park beneath the city Christmas tree and the Civil War-era Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.
For a moment, one might have thought they were in another city, perhaps Toronto or even Chicago, but then you noticed few of the people were carrying shopping bags.
This isn’t the scene along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile or in Toronto on Bloor Street, especially a week plus several days out from Christmas.
In those cities, hordes of shoppers would be going in and out of the iconic Marshall Field-turned-Macy’s on State Street or the flagship Hudson’s Bay at the intersection of Yonge and Queen Street West.
Sadly, Detroit has none of this.
For everything good happening or on the verge of happening in Detroit the city lacks the type of significant retail businesses that would keep visitors downtown instead of driving out to the suburbs to do their shopping at Oakland County malls.
Imagine being the couple I sat next to at the Bocelli concert.
They drove four hours from Barrie, a Canadian city on the shores of Lake Simcoe about an hour north of Toronto, to spend $700 on tickets and another $16 on drinks. Then there were hotel and other expenses, though they probably didn’t spend as much as they might have if Detroit had somewhere for them to spend their converted loonies.
While the Canadian dollar was on par with the U.S. dollar — it’s taken a fall of late — it is still considerably more expensive to buy the exact same item on the other side of the Detroit River. This would explain why Ontario license plates are hardly an uncommon sight at Somerset Collection or Ikea.
Detroit is uniquely positioned with the 177,000 or so Canadians just across the river being closer to downtown than those Michiganders living in far-flung suburbs.
However, little can be done to target this vast market when downtown Detroit has only sports, gambling and entertainment.
A wise idea would be to either suspend the sales tax in border areas from Black Friday to Christmas or, better yet, rebate the sales tax on purchases throughout the year by non-resident visitors.
The trickle-down impact of increased economic activity would more than make up for not only the costs of retail development, but any immediate drop in the state treasury’s revenue coffers as a result of sales tax rebates.
— Dennis Lennox