DETROIT - Mike Ilitch would have loved the ribbon cutting ceremony at Little Caesars Arena Tuesday.
Chris, Mike Ilitch's son, officially welcomed everyone to the new arena and then offered gratitude to Pistons owner Tom Gores, governor Rick Snyder, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, city council president Brenda Jones and the rest of the council, the workers who built the arena and many others.
But Chris Ilitch reserved the ultimate thanks for his parents.
"I'd like to recognize and convey my gratitude to two of Detroit's biggest champions of all time, my parents, Mike and Marian Ilitch," Chris Ilitch said. "They dreamed of a bustling, lively Detroit like the one they experienced as young people. They took a chance on our city at a time when others were moving out. They invested here nearly 30 years ago, invested here again and again over the course of their careers. It's an amazing tribute to them.
"I thank my mother, Marian, who is with us here today, for her incredible strength, her vision and her ongoing guidance. She has been such an instrumental part of everything we are celebrating here today. While my father is no longer with us, he was so excited about this vision, all of these plans. I know that if he was here with us today, he would be doing that signature double fist pump that showed he was overcome with excitement. That's what he did when he was fired up. He loved to win. And the vibrant Detroit we are now realizing was the win he wanted most for the community he loved."
The crowd gave Mrs. Ilitch a standing ovation as she wiped a tear from her eye, taking in the moment.
Gores said he was inspired as a kid growing up in Flint and seeing the accomplishments of Mike Ilitch and thanked him and the Ilitch family.
"I know you sacrificed so much to make this city what it is," Gores said. "I don't know what the city would be without you. I say that with all sincerity. Thank you for all the dedication and I know you're very proud, but also thank you for the sacrifice for us. This does not happen without you."
Snyder said that he learned an important lesson from the Ilitches, one that he would take away from this experience.
"Look at this going from Mike and Marian to Chris and his siblings and the family members here," Snyder said. "This shows you what can happen when you have a 30-year vision, when you have a 50-year vision. This is a milestone on building something much bigger and stronger than even this arena. It's about the great things people can do when they set their minds to working together as a team in a positive way, showing positive results and doing it in a relentless fashion decade after decade.
"We owe the Ilitch family a huge vote of gratitude and thank you for helping show us a great direction that the entire city and state should learn from and we should follow your path."
Duggan said that vision is something that will make a difference in Detroit for many years to come.
"I've seen stadiums across the country and normally the team runs the sports events and the city tries to develop the surrounding area," Duggan said. "This is the first place I know of where the Ilitches came in and said, 'We're going to build an entire 50-block area. We'll take the lead in the city's redevelopment.' They have sunk this arena 40 feet into the ground so it would be low enough profile to support development all the way around. Think about this - 225 days a year now, the concerts, the basketball games, the football games - and this isn't the Palace, where people will drive into a fenced parking lot, go to the game and drive out at night. This arena is woven into the urban fabric of the city. And 225 times, 20,000 people are going to come down here and they're going to use the bars and the restaurants, and the shops, creating jobs and opportunities for Detroiters."
Chris Ilitch mentioned how 94 percent of contracts awarded for Little Caesars Arena have gone to companies based in Michigan with 61 percent of the total going to Detroit-based companies.
"We've also been committed to making sure jobs created by this project were filled locally and I'm so proud to share that residents of our city have spent upward of 600,000 hours, nearly 15,000 work weeks, earning good wages on our job sites and according to our research it's the most hours by Detroiters worked on a project in more than 40 years," he said.
Because of this project, 836 apprentices were able to learn on the job in what will now be long-term careers.
One of those, John Perkins, a Detroit resident and third-year carpentry apprentice, spoke during the ceremony.
"This project didn't just give me a job, it allowed me to pursue my career passion, a passion that I have longed for since I was a child," said Perkins, who recently graduated with a construction management degree from Oakland Community College. "I remember my father teaching me how to swing his hammer at an early age. I never thought I would be swinging that same hammer to rebuild my city. Little Caesars Arena is more than just an arena to me, it's where my dreams came true. This project has opened doors for me that I never knew existed and in doing so, allowed me to help someone else to open the door.
"Most importantly, to you, Chris. If it wasn't for you and your parents' dreams, my dreams wouldn't be reality."
Barton Malow recently promoted Perkins to project engineer.
Although the ribbon has been cut and Little Caesars Arena is officially open, Chris Ilitch said this is just the beginning of The District Detroit. "Several people have commented to me, 'Aren't you happy it's done?'" Chris Ilitch said. "Done? We're just getting started."