DETROIT (AP) - The shot clock may be running out on Detroit’s effort to prove to a skeptical public that it is one of the nation’s top cities.
The city is trying to put on its best face for this weekend’s NCAA Final Four, hoping to show that it has turned the corner in its battle against crime, blight and ineptitude.
But after hosting the Super Bowl and Major League Baseball’s All-Star game, will it be enough to paint over boarded-up storefronts, spirit away the downtown homeless population and add more trash cans?
And how about that other pesky issue: the broken-down auto industry?
Despite its social and economic troubles, the city has two major factors in its favor heading into the national men’s basketball semifinals on Saturday.
One, the city has successfully pulled off high-profile sporting events in recent years. And two, Michigan State will be there.
The East Lansing campus may be 90 miles to the west, but having the Spartans competing for a national championship in Detroit is a shot in the arm for the city and state, which are buzzing with anticipation of seeing the green and white at Ford Field.
“It’s huge that Michigan State is able to be there representing the university community, the state of Michigan and the Detroit area,” said Clark Kellogg, the lead college basketball analyst at CBS, which will carry Saturday’s games. “There are a ton of fans there who support Michigan State. … All of that is positive.”
The question remains, however, whether cosmetic fixes and Spartan-fueled good cheer will be enough to cover up the Motor City’s woes.
Over the past seven years, the Detroit region has hosted the Stanley Cup finals, the NBA finals, the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship and the World Series.
The same attention to cleanliness and presentation is being paid to the Final Four. But the tournament arrives during the auto industry meltdown, which hit a new low this week when President Barack Obama issued ultimatums to GM and Chrysler.
In addition, thousands of Detroit homes stand empty because of the foreclosure crisis. Plus, a text-messaging sex scandal involving former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and a federal investigation into city corruption have kept Detroit in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“When people came here for the Super Bowl, they had preconceptions, and we blew them away,” said Renee Monforton, communications director for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“When they left, 85 percent said they had a great experience in Detroit. We have the opportunity to do that again, and it’s badly needed with the events of the past year.”
“There is a perception that when the auto industry is hurting, Detroit is hurting,” she said. “We need to show them Detroit is alive and well.”
And that starts with making the city presentable.
“We need to clean the streets, take a look at the special-event zone where guests and visitors will generally move while here, take a look at the buildings,” said Bill Ryan, executive director of the Detroit local organizing committee for the Final Four.
As for the rest of the city’s ills, they will remain after the buzzer sounds at Monday’s national championship game.
“The reaction I hear from out-of-state visitors all the time is, ‘Detroit isn’t what I expected,’” said Robert Porcher, former Detroit Lions defensive lineman and a successful restaurant owner in the city.
“I think tourists come away with that feeling because we have so many good people here who are proud of where they live and love to show off the jewels we have.”
Associated Press Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.