Detroit business leaders say Hartford bankruptcy wouldn't ruin its reputation

Detroit. (WFSB)

The I-Team continued on Tuesday with its week long series on the capital city in crisis.

Monday, it aired a story in which judges who oversaw the largest municipal bankruptcy ever for Detroit both believe Hartford is headed down the same path.

After the piece ran, the I-Team heard from people who said bankruptcy would ruin Hartford's reputation forever.

However, business leaders in Detroit think that idea gets it all wrong.

It was a night of celebration at Central Kitchen & Bar when the I-Team visited Detroit's Cadillac Square.

Owner Dennis Archer Jr. marked two years of success there. He's the son of a former mayor of Detroit and said betting on his hometown was a no-brainer.

"You would never, as you walk around the city today, you would never know it occurred," Archer said. "It was very clean, it was run professionally, and I'm happy that we went through it."

Archer was referring to Detroit's 2013 bankruptcy. He said for years, it was a daily headline and a constant topic of conversation among the Motor City's profession community.

But no more. Today, the talk is of a city on the rebound.

"We're much better off as a city because of it," Archer said.

"I've never seen a city revive as quickly as this one," said Sandy K. Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber.

Baruah is president of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. The I-Team spoke to him about how his organization could possibly market a city that's in or emerging from bankruptcy.

He said people in Hartford, like many, were focusing on the wrong thing.

"If I can give the good people of Hartford and the leaders of Hartford any advice, it's that that's the least of your concerns," Baruah said.

He said he understand the concern of the stigma that comes with a bankruptcy filing. However, he said that's not the audience Hartford needs to worry about.

"You shouldn't be worried about how the average person on the streets in say Phoenix or Denver thinks about Hartford," Baruah said. "What you're interested in is business investors and business investors have a very different mindset and look at very different things than the PR issue."

Those groups are the ones that could spark a resurgence. That's what happened in Detroit.

Baruah thinks it's because investors understand the value of bankruptcy as as tool for long term good.

"Look at your municipal situation as if you're going into surgery," he said. "It's not something you're looking forward to, but you have two choices: You can delay it and make the problem worse or you can do it now and fix yourself now. Go into surgery now, pull the Band-Aid off now."

Archer agreed. He said whatever temporary pain came with it, growth began the moment investors were convinced real change was underway.

"If you have responsible ethical city leadership, if those who are making the decisions select responsible bankruptcy professionals, then you will be fine," Archer said.

The judges the I-Team spoke with said the sooner Hartford files the better.

To be clear, the reorganization that happens in bankruptcy court is a painful one.

Wednesday, the I-Team's series will continue with two city retirees who talk about about the painful cuts they've had to endure to their pensions and health care.

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