DETROIT – For Vito Figliomeni, the decision he made last fall was a leap of faith. But one he was willing to make, mainly because of his admiration for the product.
A lifelong Red Wings’ fan, Figliomeni was excited to sign a five-year contract to be a charter member of the new Legends Club inside the Detroit Events Center, set to open in 19 months.
The Red Wings will move from Joe Louis Arena – their riverfront home since 1979 – to the DEC for the start of the 2017-18 NHL season.
“It is a leap, but I mean, we really trust the organization,” said Figliomeni as he and his wife, Linda, watched the Red Wings thrash the New York Islanders, 5-1, last Saturday afternoon.
As a longtime suite holder, Figliomeni considers himself among the lucky ones who was able to secure premium seats before they were all gone.
“Obviously, they’re moving the Legends Club closer to the ice,” said Figliomeni, who is leasing four seats in the new $627 million arena. “I think it’s gonna be a little lower. It’s gonna be by the main concourse. I think I’m gonna love it, actually.”
Recently, the Red Wings announced that all 52 corporate suites, 22 loge-box suites, and 130 seats in the Legends Club have been contractually leased for three to 10 years. The full-sized suites accommodate 18-30 people, while the smaller loge suites have seating for 4-6 fans.
That’s a lot of faith for an unfinished building.
But by selling out the suites – and doing so in an astonishing 40 days– it demonstrates success on several different levels for both the arena and District Detroit, the 50 blocks of soon-to-be thriving businesses, parks, restaurants, bars and event destinations that will go around the arena.
It all sounds great to the Figliomenis, who make the 40-minute drive from their Kingsville, Ontario, home to attend most Red Wings’ home games. But with few shopping and other retail options currently available near The Joe, they usually just arrive in time for the opening faceoff and head back across the Ambassador Bridge soon after the final horn.
However, the Figliomenis look forward to the days they can stay longer when more pre- and post-game opportunities arise in and around the Red Wings’ new 20,000-seat home.
“I think it will help revitalize Detroit, I really do,” Vito said. “I think by having all these new businesses coming in and having an action plan like they’ve got is significant, and it won’t be so unilateral in approach. People won’t necessarily come here just for a hockey game. They can spend the day here. We would love that. We’re 40 minutes away, but we still have to cross the border, which sometimes can be 20-30 minutes, so by the time we get here it would be nice if we could stay here for a couple more hours, walk around, do some shopping.”
Tom Wilson, the president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment, said the rate at which individuals and companies have committed to these premium experiences shows how excited everyone is for this transformative project.
“One of the points of differentiation about these suites versus anything anybody else is going to see is they are really a great business tool and can pay for themselves,” said Wilson, who oversaw construction of the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1988 and was president of Palace Sports & Entertainment until he joined the Ilitch organization in 2010.
“The number of people who came in that have Detroit roots, or who have been here long enough that they feel like they have Detroit roots, part of the reason they got excited about getting involved was this is such a significant piece and a turnaround for the city,” Wilson said. “The location, the impact it’s going to have in terms of bringing people down here, feet on the street, people so wanted to be a part of this. It’s going to be an amazing story.”
In December, Meijer and St. Joseph Mercy Health System were the first to show the highest level of commitment to the DEC project, signing multi-year partnership deals to bring community initiatives aimed at enriching lives of Michigan residents as well as visitors to the arena and the district.
Partners and fans are embracing the project to revitalize Detroit, and the major investments that are being made will act as conduit to a vibrant, active district and surrounding area that will offer living, working and entertaining experiences.
“One of the things we’re riding right now – riding and creating – is this incredible momentum in the city,” Wilson said. “And it’s not just us. It’s Dan Gilbert and what he’s doing. It’s General Motors doing some work on the riverfront and BCBSM. It’s DMC, Wayne State University and Sue Mosey/Midtown Detroit, all these entrepreneurs and organizations that are putting up restaurants seemingly every week. All of it’s kind of coming together all at once, and this is just one more validation, I think, of the belief that Detroit is well on its way to a comeback. So when you think like this, not just that you’ve sold all the suites or all the loge boxes, but you’ve sold them so fast, it’s indicative of the excitement and energy that’s being put into this city. That helps to get people confidence in this turnaround and that helps the 50 blocks.
“The other thing is we made an announcement in November that we added another $96 million to the project. Part of the reason you can do that is because we’re having success here, so the success goes back into making the building even better, which, hopefully will lead to even more success which is going to allow us to make it even better still. So it will be the greatest building in the country when it opens.”
Last summer, Olympia Entertainment and Olympia Development opened the District Preview Center at Comerica Park. The center provides a variety of potential investors, sponsors and premium seat holders a vision of the DEC and District Detroit.
The Figliomenis visited the preview center and they appreciated the views of the ice and the modern technology. Every suite, which is double the size of the suites at Joe Louis Arena, will have three areas: one for watching the game, another for eating, and another for meeting or relaxing. Each suite will also have five large screens, which can be programmed to show broadcasts of other games or even the merchandise of a suite-holder.
“We went down to see the preview center and it was a fantastic set-up,” Vito Figliomeni said. “They had a visual display of the arena. They did a good job of explaining and helping us envision how things are going to come about in the preliminary stages here. … It certainly helped a lot to get a good grasp.”
Now, as the steel and concrete shell of the massive building begins to ascend from the large 40-foot hole between Sproat and Henry streets on the west side of Woodward Avenue, Wilson is thrilled with the progress he’s witnessing, almost on a daily basis.
“There’s a new reality every day that gives you that little jump in your heart,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot of little things, but this is a vision, certainly a vision for the Ilitches, coming true. And if we’re excited about it you can imagine how they feel because they’re the ones that are really making this happen in our city. It’s gotta be great for them.”
The Figliomenis have enjoyed their eight-plus seasons at the Joe, where, they say, everyone feels like family. But they’re just as excited for the day they can settle into the new arena and cheer on their favorite team with the adopted clan.
“Whether it’s the security guards outside, the people selling the 50/50 raffles or Virgil over there by the door, everybody treats us with respect,” Vito said. “We generally feel like it’s a family in here and we’re excited for the new place, because it’s really more than a hockey game. It’s so much more.”