Maybe here, maybe not. When the thought of the Olympics, and locations for the games, comes up, my corner of the world speculates. Could it happen in Detroit? Should it happen in Detroit?
I think it could. It’d be fun if it did.
Several media outlets have often discussed Detroit’s previous pursuits of the Summer Games. And yes, 1968 was closest the city came to hosting the games. The discussion returned when the USOC was seeking bids for the 2024 games. Detroit rightfully turned it down.
The Detroit Free Press again stoked the story in 2015 and 2016, shortly before Rio. The 2015 story is perhaps the better analysis as to whether or not the city could host the games. That proposal dreamed of a combined Detroit-Windsor/U.S.-Canada bid. The map included did a good job of laying out what could work in a combined bid.
It called for the use of facilities on Wayne State’s and Detroit Mercy’s campuses as well as the University of Windsor. It called for keeping Joe Louis Arena, though, but not utilizing some other arenas. Some of those other places could be on Oakland University’s campus (if The Palace is to be used, why not OU?) or the WFCU Centre, the home of the Windsor Spitfires. Windsor Arena could also be used. Plus, if more facilities are necessary, something could be worked out to use facilities on Eastern Michigan’s or the University of Michigan’s campuses or the new minor league baseball Jimmy John’s Field. Toledo isn’t that far, either. Renovations could be done to any number of athletic fields, too.
Two major pieces of hosting the games would still be necessary: A stadium for the opening/closing ceremonies and track and field; and the athletes’ village. In previous plans, and even the one pushed by the Free Press, was to have that stadium at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds. A stadium is wanted for a proposed Major League Soccer team, but on the site of the still-being-constructed-but-halted Wayne County jail in downtown Detroit.
Soccer-specific stadiums in the United States typically don’t hold more than 20,000 people. Stadiums for the Olympics are typically built in the 60-70,000 people range. But I do recall seeing several thousand empty seats during the Rio games for track. Perhaps a 25,000 to 30,000 seat stadium could be built to serve the Olympics, and then be redone to make it ready for soccer. And, some temporary seating could be erected in some portions of the building, but then scaled down to be made for hotels, offices, etc., as a part of the structure. That way there aren’t too many empty seats when the MLS team calls it home.
Nearly all who have discussed the athletes’ village question have said those buildings would then be converted to housing. That obviously is the best use of buildings that only see a few weeks of use.
Outside of all of that, the biggest obstacle for the city of Detroit, and its neighbors is mass transit. The Motor City is clearly that. Having the light rail up and running soon will help. The People Mover, as much as people ridicule it, helps. What will need to be done is to make some of the off streets as bus only streets for that time. Having extra buses, and temporary bus only streets, will allow for quickly moving people from lots to facilities without too much of a fuss. So a thoroughfare like Michigan or Grand River would remain with traffic as it is. But a lesser street grid can carry the buses nearly traffic free around the city to get people to and from the games.
The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel could become bus only in that scenario. The addition of the Gordie Howe Bridge in a handful of years will alleviate traffic from the tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge. With the third crossing there, and don’t forget the Blue Water Bridge up in Port Huron/Sarnia, there seems to be a way to help with getting people where they need to be. Plus, cruise ships, similar to what was done in Rio, could help with any lack of hotels. The Border Patrol would be working a ton along the river, but with two countries policing, nothing will be overlooked.
There appears to be a lot of willpower with some of the richer corporate citizens in and around Detroit right now. And they’ve worked together on a variety of projects, from the light rail to hosting Super Bowl XL. It could happen. But will it? It’ll take some work on the Detroit end to help to continue to change the perceptions and misconceptions of the city and the region.