1981, trucks were hard to find at national rental companies in
the area; they all seemed to be in Texas or heading south, carrying
Michigan residents in search of jobs.
newspapers with fat help wanted sections were in high
demand at Flint libraries and book stores.
By the numbers,
there didnt seem to be much reason to stick around the area
in the 1980s: Inflation was up, interest rates and unemployment
were soaring, crime rates were up in Flint. Car sales were down.
sweet would-be solutions � AutoWorld, Windmill Place, Water Street
Pavilion � turned sour.
the bad old days ever be forgotten, an audacious local journalist
and gadfly named Michael Moore captured his version of them on
film, editing together a damning portrait of a betrayed and clueless
General Motors company town.
for theatrical release, Moores unconventional documentary,
Roger & Me, spread news of Flints woes far
an old axiom was rarely clearer: When the auto industry caught
the sniffles, Flint got pneumonia.
unemployment rate was the highest in the nation � more than 17
percent � for a few months in mid-1980, and again in early 1982,
with rates of 22 or 23 percent, January through April.
came here from around the nation � and from West Germany and London
� to write about the plight of the unemployed in the city hit
hardest by the recession.
In many ways,
the 80s were the worst of times for the Flint area:
Magazine declared Flint the worst place to live among the 300
J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward closed their downtown stores in
1980 � the end of major retail business downtown.
worried about water and air pollution from the Berlin & Farro
solid waste disposal site, the Metamora Sanitary Landfill
worker at General Motors' Fisher Body No. 1 looks out
from the historic factory complex the day before it closed
on Dec. 10, 1987.
dumps found to contain hazardous wastes.
cocaine drove a record-high wave of homicides in Flint: 61 in
1986, 57 in 1989, 52 in 1987.
AIDS epidemic spread fear of a new plague.
Countys population declined by about 20,000, to 430,459.
rates soared. The picture was so dismal that it was considered
good news when interest rates for home mortgages in 1982 were
down to 13 percent � from 18 percent in 1981. Car interest loans
peaked at around 16.5 percent in 1981.
however, another side of the story:
development of the Miller Road area of Flint Township, which started
in the 1970s, continued briskly in the 1980s.
Great Lakes Technology Centre was created from some of the factory
buildings at the former Fisher Body No. 1 complex on S. Saginaw
area colleges expanded during the decade.
Creek Raceway opened in Swartz Creek, giving area horse racing
fans a venue closer than the Detroit tracks.
Cinemas opened a six-screen theater in Burton, the first of several
estimated 100,000 people toured area factories and a big crowd
packed downtown to celebrate the 75th anniversary of General Motors
in 1983. Another big celebration was held in 1985 for the UAWs
Some of the
bright spots faded fast.
opened with great hoopla on July 4, 1984. Water Street Pavilion
opened in June 1985. Backers touted them as projects that would
save downtown Flint.
had immediate problems, and closed down in January 1985. Water
Street struggled a little longer, but it, too, became a victim
of unrealistic economic expectations. Most of its stores
two years of the opening, and the popular Figlios restaurant
closed in 1989.
that theres a serious question over whether government can
or should get involved in these kinds of economic development
activities, said Albert Price, professor of political science
at the University of Michigan-Flint.
theres a profit in it, the private sector will do it on
figures are released monthly, and there were several months in
the early 1980s when the Flint area � then defined for study purposes
as Genesee and Shiawassee counties � led the state.
in the area hit a peak of 23.7 percent in March 1982, and the
unemployment rate in the city of Flint was always a few percentage
points higher than area figures.
1980 through January 1989 there were only four months when the
areas unemployment rate was less than 10 percent; there
were 12 months during the period when it was more than 20 percent.
GM laid off
or transferred 3,400 workers when Fisher Body closed in 1987;
other GM workers were laid off when production was scaled back
at other sites.
continued to approve tax abatements for GM, even as employment
based on tax abatements that were in effect between 1980 and 1990,
promising to maintain existing jobs or create new ones, there
should have been 70,000 GM jobs in the area in 1990 � but there
were less than 40,000.
and economic hardships caused a protectionist reaction from some;
UAW leaders called on Japanese manufacturers to limit their exports
to the United States. Unions started campaigns urging consumers
to Buy American and Buy Union.
The UAW International
union decided in 1980 not to allow foreign cars in parking lots
at three of its facilities. In 1986, some Flint area union locals
others, too; nearly 400 hospital employees were laid off in 1984
from McLaren General, St. Joseph and Flint Osteopathic hospitals.
In May 1982,
Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, Muskegon and Detroit held half of the
top 10 slots on national unemployment lists.
photographs show a long line of job-seekers standing outside a
Kessel store in 1982, waiting to submit applications. Some applicants
brought lawn chairs and coolers; four women brought sleeping bags
and camped out overnight.
included some former employees of Hamady stores that had been
bought by Kessel, applying for their old jobs at pay cuts averaging
$4 an hour.
found themselves out of work after the air traffic
unemployment line wraps the Michigan Employment Security
Commission office at Clio and W. Pierson roads in 1986.
union went on strike nationally in 1981 and their members were
fired by President Reagan � an act that shook the powerhouse that
was organized labor.
Some of the
unemployed went to school, and Mott Community College and the
University of Michigan-Flint saw record enrollments.
continued to expand its downtown campus, with the construction
of the University Center and Murchie Science Building, and planning
was under way for a grand building to replace the library weighing
down the top floor of the overloaded Classroom and Office Building.
GM cut its ties with General Motors Institute, and the renamed
GMI Engineering & Management Institute (now Kettering University)
successfully made the transition to a private institution.
College had such strong increases in enrollment that it bought
the former Mandeville school property in Flint Township and built
a new campus.
Baker dropped the junior from its name and became
a four-year institution.
As the 80s
ended, Mott Community College was about one-third of the way through
a campus overhaul, upgrading buildings, parking lots, equipment
and teaching materials. MCC was maintaining enrollment of more
than 10,000 � near the capacity for the campus.
In the late
1970s, Flint had a plan to remodel downtown to make it more attractive
to shoppers. The Center City plan suggested creating plazas and
climate-controlled walkways to connect stores.
evolved into Water Street Pavilion.
four blocks of commercial buildings were torn down in 1984 to
make way for the Pavilion, the adjacent parking ramp and surface
lot. The demolished buildings were not all vacant, either; some
were home to offices and businesses that closed or moved because
of the demolition.
said it was a mistake to destroy so much of downtowns character
just to create parking.
the proponents of Water Street claimed the restaurant-and-shopping
complex would generate money for housing, but it actually ended
up taking away money that could have been used for housing or
other improvements in the city.
was supposed to save downtown. In the end, it could not save itself
and closed in 1990. The building survives only because it was
taken over by UM-Flint, at the bargain price of $60,000.
In all, a
Big Three of downtown projects � Water Street, AutoWorld
and the Hyatt Regency Hotel � cost more than $150 million, and
the total is much higher when other related expenses are figured
helped the wrecking balls and bulldozers change the face of Flint.
Fires destroyed the remnants of the old Flint Lumber Co., a former
Durant-Dort carriage factory, Pierce furniture and the Hockstead
pharmacy building, and hopes for redeveloping those properties
went up in smoke.
told The Journal that arsons in 1981 were up 80 percent from previous
years. Arsons did more than $2 million in damage, according to
police department estimates. There are several motives for arson,
but investigators said the biggest reason was to collect insurance
contributed, too; a fire that destroyed the old Burroughs &
Son building center in 1982 was believed to have been caused by
vagrants. Other empty buildings and abandoned houses also burned
when vagrants or homeless people built fires for heat.
bank examiner was found shot to death at the Hyatt Regency Hotel
on New Years Eve, 1986. It was the 61st killing in the city
of Flint for the year.
� for the worst mass murder in the city � was set the next year,
when six people were killed in a home on Flints Russell
Avenue. The city had 52 murders that year.
decades unsolved mysteries were other killings: the 1980
homicide of a former City Council member and his wife, and the
1986 killing of a former vice-chancellor at the University of
former council member, and his wife, Louise, were killed in December
1980, their bodies found in an abandoned Toledo dump three days
after they were reported missing.
speculation that the killings could have been connected to some
of Tuckers business dealings, which included real estate,
construction and insurance. Police theorized that the killers
were hired, and were from out of town.
Eby, former provost and vice chancellor at the University of Michigan-Flint,
was killed around Nov. 8, 1986, at her home, the gatehouse at
the Mott family estate bordering the Flint Cultural Center.
body was discovered Nov. 9 in the upstairs bedroom by friends.
Her throat had been slashed.
in the house had been disturbed; the front door was left ajar
and Ebys car was parked outside.
killer stalked into the public consciousness in 1980 � a new disease
with a cumbersome name � acquired immune deficiency syndrome �
that was soon shortened to AIDS.
that causes AIDS was identified in 1984, and by then it was clear
that the disease was spread by sexual contact or by sharing needles.
to education campaigns urging what was dubbed safe sex
and promoting the use of condoms. In 1987, the Legislature passed
a law requiring local schools to teach students about AIDS, and
school districts scrambled to create policies and AIDS curricula.
Some opted for an approach akin to the Just Say No
campaign against illegal drugs.
the spread of AIDS cut blood donations in the early 1980s, forcing
Red Cross officials to explain again and again that people cannot
get the disease by donating blood.
article in August 1985 said there had been no reported cases of
AIDS in Genesee County, but that changed in November, when a man
held at the county jail told police he had the disease. By the
end of 1987, 18 cases of AIDS had been reported in the county
� and 13 of the victims were dead.
incident put Flint in the news in December 1985, when a man with
AIDS spat in the faces of two police officers who tried to arrest
him after a traffic accident.
Robert E. Weiss charged the man with attempted murder, drawing
national media attention. A district court judge ruled in July
1986 that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge;
the suspect already had pleaded guilty to DUI, and other charges
got itself noticed when it started ranking American cities
liveability. Cities ranked high on the list trumpeted the news;
those ranked at the bottom made a lot of noise, too.
Money ranked Flint as No. 300 out of the 300 places it surveyed.
Many news accounts put it differently, saying that the study labeled
Flint the worst place in America to live.
up a few places on the list for 1988, then fell to No. 299 in
1989. Here at home, many disagreed.
then a plant manager at Buick, told the magazine, Ive
lived in Boston, Kansas City and St. Louis. Theres not a
better area in the U.S. than Flint.
Albert Kessel, a former Hamady executive, bought some former Kroger
stores in Corunna and Saginaw. He added five former Hamady stores
in the Flint area to his chain in 1982.
unions attempted a boycott of the nonunion Kessel stores, but
despite periodic picketing did not get enough support to have
any lasting impact.
Flints signature grocery store chain for decades � was under
the control of Alex Dandy, who had acquired it in 1974. On Oct.
18, 1987, Hamady workers went on strike, and by Oct. 27 all 27
Hamady stores were closed.
racers circle the track at Sports Creek Raceway in 1987.