Mar 15, 2023 - News

Duggan champions District tax breaks

Duggan gives his 2023 State of the City address.

Mayor Mike Duggan gives his 2023 State of the City address. Photo: City of Detroit/Flickr

Mayor Mike Duggan is resurrecting decades-old arguments for tax incentives made by former mayor Coleman Young to garner public support for an $800 million package for the District Detroit.

Why it matters: Duggan's comments at last week's State of the City previewed a looming City Council vote on tax breaks for the $1.5 billion overall District build-out.

  • Recalling Young — an icon in the city's Black community for championing its causes and calling out systemic inequality — could be a tactic to garner support on the council.

The big picture: Duggan's public support of billionaires with patchy development track records last week raised some eyebrows despite his long-standing relationship with the business community.

  • The Ilitch family's original District Detroit proposal failed to meet expectations, for example.
  • The mayor also praised the Moroun family for preventing the demolition of Michigan Central Station. But his speech overlooked the reality that the iconic building continued to deteriorate during the family's ownership.

What they're saying: "Forty years ago, Coleman Young understood that when you have a company with good-paying jobs and benefits, every city and the state wants them," Duggan said, explaining that the city needs development tax breaks to compete for projects with surrounding suburbs with lower tax rates.

The other side: Holding up Young as a tax-incentive pioneer could have been a strategic move to combat the perception that such subsidies disproportionately benefit downtown businesses.

  • "He's trying to attach these development policies to the Black revolutionary politics of a Coleman Young," Theo Pride, community organizer for the Detroit People's Platform, tells Axios.

Between the lines: Young promoted development incentives in a different era of white flight and widespread disinvestment in the city, Pride says.

  • Compared to Duggan's policies today, Young's had a more equitable impact on Black Detroiters, Pride argued.

State of play: Both supporters and opponents of the District's tax breaks are already inundating City Council meetings ahead of the vote, which hasn't been scheduled yet.

What's next: The council's planning and economic development committee is expected to continue discussing these tax breaks tomorrow.


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