DETROIT – It began as a vision some 15 years ago, and, over time the idea to build a new hockey arena grew into an exquisite plan to transform the heart of an impoverished city.
On a picturesque sunny afternoon in midtown Detroit, the Ilitch family’s dream came one step closer to reality with an elaborate groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the Red Wings new $450 million “deconstructed design” arena and surrounding $200 million entertainment district at Woodward Avenue and the I-75 Interstate.
“It’s fitting that the sun is shining on us today because the future of our city, our region, our entire state is getting brighter each and every day,” proclaimed Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings.
The groundbreaking, which was attended by a variety of dignitaries and politicians – Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan among them – was an extravagant ceremony highlighted by the traditional shovels-in-the-ground photo opportunity.
Large shipping containers were brought to the site of the future arena and stacked two and three high to form an enormous backdrop used to bolster the excitement at the event. The gospel group Selected of God also performed, singing their rendition of Eminem’s chart-topping hit “Lose Yourself”, a song they sang backup vocals on for a Chrysler television commercial.
Several members of the Red Wings’ front office also attended Thursday’s ceremony, led by senior vice president Jim Devellano, general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock. Former players Kris Draper, Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer were also on hand.
“It’s going to be incredible for the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan, and for the Detroit Red Wings and our fans,” Holland said of the project. “Obviously, there will be other events there other than hockey with lots of concerts, so it should help revitalize that area of downtown.”
Actual construction with heavy earthmoving equipment will start in the spring, and the arena and surrounding district is expected to take three years to complete with the arena’s opening set for July 2017. The next six months are for site preparation and demolition work.
Chris Ilitch thanked state, county and city government, and his parents, Mike and Marian Ilitch, for their continued vision for Detroit and this project, which according to Olympia Development, will create about 5,500 construction jobs, with more than half going to Detroit residents.
It’s fitting that the sun is shining on us today because the future of our city, our region, our entire state is getting brighter each and every day.Chris Ilitch, president and CEO, Ilitch Holdings
“This celebration would not be complete without recognizing two very special people,” Ilitch said, “who have demonstrated love for their hometown in countless ways, and who have always believed that winning sports teams and amazing entertainment venues bring people together. … Two people whose hard work, passion, commitment, (and) larger-than-life imagination have brought us here today – my parents, Mike and Marian Ilitch.”
The sports and entertainment district, which will see the construction of 14 new buildings created concurrently, will cover more than 50 city blocks and be larger than The Loop in downtown Chicago.
The new arena will be a deconstructed design with a glass-roofed concourse, offices, retail shops and restaurants in separate buildings outside the arena. The ancillary shops and restaurants will be available all the time, even when the arena – which will have 46 suites and seat 19,789 fans for Red Wings games – isn’t being used for hockey or events.
The arena will sit in the middle of nearly 13-acres, located west of Woodward and east of Clifford Street with Henry Street to the south and Sproat Street to the north. The Woodward overpass that spans across I-75 will be rebuilt to include storefronts along the actual roadway.
“We think it’s a paradigm shift in how arenas have been designed and built in America for decades,” Ilitch said. “Really the genesis of a lot of thinking was first we wanted something that was a unique fit for this community, Detroit, and when you look at the site it’s pretty much devoid of any structures.
“If you look at trends in professional sports over the last 10-15 years they’re all starting to build villages and extensions around their existing venues. We want to have a village. We want to build out this wide-open space in downtown Detroit. It makes sense to pull a lot of those ancillary uses that are usually buried in a big, rectangular box of an arena, the old design, the way things have been done to date have sort of been jammed into the bowl and under the seats. Often times those ancillary uses like clubs and team store and team offices are in irregular-shaped spaces, windowless places and not great spaces. So we said, ‘It probably makes the best sense for our community to pull all of those ancillary uses out of the big box and to build them separately. They can be open 365 days a year, which is a tremendous benefit to our community.”
|Former Red Wings forward Kris Draper and senior vice president Jim Devellano were among the handful of team officials at Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings) |
The Red Wings players are very excited for the prospects of playing inside a new arena, the third such home building in team history, which started with Olympia Stadium in 1927.
As someone who was born and raised in Detroit, 24-year-old defenseman Danny DeKeyser has a keen interest in the new development.
“I think it’s great,” DeKeyser said of the groundbreaking. “Every year that I come downtown it looks different. Even this year it looks different than last year, it’s cleaned up with a lot more people and more restaurants opening up, and more things to do downtown. So it’s all good.”
The eight-story arena with its three entrances and a seating bowl that sits 40 feet below street level is the crown of the project. Once finished, the development will include a piazza – or public square – and a five-story parking garage with enough room for 1,200-spaces.
The piazza next to the southwest end of the arena will serve as a gathering space for pre-event outdoor concerts, and other activities. The lighted piazza will be lined with trees and possibly statues and fountains. It will also be open to the public during non-event times.
Along the edges of the piazza will be sidewalk café zones, and other amenities will include bike racks and benches throughout the area.
Also planned is a below-grade practice rink inside the arena, which will be a huge benefit for the Red Wings, who have had to dress-and-drive to area rinks to practice when JLA is unavailable.
“It’s awesome to have a practice facility, which is a big deal for us just because we don’t have one,” DeKeyser said. “You see that other teams have stuff like that you kind of wish that we had something like that.”
The estimated 650,000 square-foot practice auxiliary rink will sit 37-feet underneath the piazza.
“To have a state-of-the-art facility with an attached practice rink is really going to be fabulous for our players and our coaching staff and our entire organization,” Holland said. “Hopefully it helps recruit some players down the road, but I think 2017 can’t come soon enough.”
Holland and the hockey operations staff provided design input for the arena bowl, while players offered their opinions on the team’s locker room facilities, which will be three times larger than what they currently have at Joe Louis Arena.
“I’m excited that they are going to make it a tight bowl,” Holland said. “When we were asked about our opinion one of the arenas that I talked about was Montreal. When you go to Montreal, it’s a fairly steep building, so it feels like the fans are top of the action. It feels like one of the older builds.”
Holland also hopes the new arena and its magnificent amenities will entice future free agents to consider making Detroit their NHL home.
“Most teams now have relatively new arenas,” Holland said. “That’s our competition and whenever you’re recruiting, or trying to get your own players to stay so they don’t go play elsewhere, there’s no doubt that it’s going to help us. At the same time you hope that it’s going to increase revenues. You’re going to have more amenities than we do at Joe Louis Arena because as the revenues in the game grow and the (salary) cap grows you want to continue to be a cap team and play with the big boys.”