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Motor City looks to Final Four for economic boost

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Michigan State, North Carolina to vie for national title
  • Men's Final Four couldn't come at a better time for hard-hit capital of the auto industry
  • Detroit's jobless rate is highest in nation, and auto industry bailouts bode ill for future
  • The participation of nearby Michigan State in the event adds icing on the cake
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DETROIT, Michigan (CNN) -- It's a stimulus plan on sneakers.

An emblem of hard times in Detroit: A homeless person's shanty with GM headquarters in background.

The NCAA men's Final Four at Detroit's Ford Field could generate $30 million to $50 million from visitors.

The NCAA men's basketball Final Four couldn't come at a better time for the city of Detroit -- the hard-hit capital of the U.S. auto industry at the center of the state of Michigan's economic woes.

The 12-percent unemployment rate here is the highest in the nation, and with the Big Three automakers all needing multibillion-dollar government bailouts in an attempt to stay afloat, the future isn't much brighter, some say.

"We need some help," said Detroit resident Mark Franklin, who took his 5-year-old son to Friday's Hershey's College All-Star Game at Ford Field. "There are too many people out of work already. Even if you have a job, you know someone who doesn't."

Enter the Final Four and a quartet of powerhouse college basketball teams -- all seeking NCAA brass. Connecticut, Michigan State, North Carolina and Villanova have won a combined nine NCAA championships and reached 31 Final Fours.

But more important to the city are the visitors -- and the wallets -- that college basketball's marquee weekend will bring to Detroit.

City leaders expect 100,000 fans to visit -- staying in hotel rooms, renting cars and spending an anticipated $30 million to $50 million.

The participation of Michigan State adds icing on the cake.

The school's campus sits just 90 miles away, in East Lansing, giving the Spartans a home-floor advantage as they give locals some added pride on a special weekend.

MSU helped things along mightily by advancing to the finals Saturday, defeating Connecticut 82-73. In the national championship game, the Spartans will play North Carolina, 83-69 victors over Villanova later Saturday.

More than half the Michigan State players are from in-state and many have felt the impact of the region's economic woes.

"I have family that are unemployed right now," said sophomore guard Durrell Summers, who starred at Detroit's Redford Covenant High School. "[For the Final Four] to bring that kind of money in, hopefully it can help open up jobs for my family and for other families because some people got laid off for no reason." Watch Elaine Quijano's report on a GM dealer's perspective Video

Detroit's first Final Four is the latest in a series of big sporting events for the city.

The Pistons have hosted a pair of NBA Finals in suburban Auburn Hills, while the NHL's Red Wings have won two Stanley Cups at downtown Joe Louis Arena.

Baseball's Tigers have played in a World Series and its home, Comerica Park, hosted an MLB All-Star game. This weekend's host venue, Ford Field, was the site of Super Bowl XL and Oakland Hills Country Club was home to the 2004 Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship last August in nearby Bloomfield Hills.


This is the first year of a new stadium configuration for the Final Four, requiring host domes to use all permanent seating to meet a 70,000-seat minimum.

"You see people driving up just to take a picture of the Final Four sign on (Ford Field). It's something to be proud of," Franklin said. "Now we need city leaders to take advantage of it."

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