DETROIT – The Detroit Pistons are ready to move downtown – into what is already being billed as one of the most unique sports neighborhoods in the nation.
The Pistons formally announced plans Tuesday to move into Little Caesars Arena next season and share that new venue with the Detroit Red Wings, a relocation that would put all four of the city’s major sports teams within a few blocks of each other. The arena is being built in the same part of downtown where the Tigers and Lions host their games at Comerica Park and Ford Field, respectively.
Tuesday’s news conference was held in a room at Cass Tech High School that had a view of all three of those nearby sports venues.
“This is the only city now with all four teams in the downtown area,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “You can walk within 10 minutes to all of them. You can go around the country, and there are cities where all four teams are somewhere in the border of their city. In Denver, they’ve got basketball and hockey and baseball downtown, and the Broncos play a mile outside.”
Duggan said after moving downtown next season, the Pistons will have their headquarters and a practice facility in the city by 2018.
Duggan called the agreement for the Pistons to move “preliminary” and said final agreements would likely be approved early next year by Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority, the Michigan Strategic Fund and the Detroit City Council. The agreement calls for a contribution of $34.5 million from the DDA to cover modifications to the new arena to accommodate an NBA team.
Duggan said by law, those funds can only be used for infrastructure and economic development downtown.
“These funds have to be spent on economic development purposes in this region, and we couldn’t think of anything more important than bringing the Pistons back home,” he said.
Michael LaFaive of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy was critical of the plan, saying taxpayers shouldn’t be put in a position to back business ventures of private entrepreneurs.
“Let entrepreneurs risk their own resources and flourish or flounder on their own accord,” he said in an email.
Duggan and Pistons owner Tom Gores were at the news conference, along with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Ilitch Holdings President and CEO Christopher Ilitch. The Red Wings are owned by Mike and Marian Ilitch, and Gores said the opportunity to partner with them played a big role in the decision to move.
“I thought this would be a great partnership, and I would tell you, if I didn’t feel it, then we have a home, and we would’ve stayed there,” Gores said. “But there’s a bigger picture here.”
The Red Wings are in their final season at Joe Louis Arena before the NHL team moves to Little Caesars Arena. The Pistons have played at The Palace of Auburn Hills since 1988 and were at the Pontiac Silverdome for a decade before that.
The Pistons were downtown when they called Cobo Arena home from 1961-78 before heading to Pontiac and then Auburn Hills. The Palace is about 30 miles from downtown Detroit.
“Watching our city decline over the years has been difficult, but emotionally, the most painful experiences were when our sports franchises either left town or tried to leave town,” Duggan said.
The Lions also played at the Silverdome before moving to Ford Field in 2002. Now, the Pistons are eager to make the same move to downtown Detroit.
“We’ve seen these trends of our teams moving really from suburban areas outside of urban areas, back into downtown areas,” Silver said. “Little Caesars Arena is just another fantastic example of that trend.”
The Pistons’ move is subject to NBA approval and is expected to be presented to the board of governors sometime after Jan. 1.
The Palace was built with private funds by William Davidson, who owned the Pistons before his death in 2009. The team has won three championships in Auburn Hills, although the atmosphere slipped in recent years as the Pistons went through a rough stretch.
Detroit returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009.
Gores bought the Pistons from Karen Davidson in 2011, and by that point, the team had become a suburban outlier, with the Lions having moved downtown to play alongside the Ilitch-owned Tigers and Red Wings.
Now, Gores is joining forces with the Ilitches and moving his team into that same area.
“This community is getting the world-class sports and entertainment district it deserves,” Christopher Ilitch said. “A perfect addition to a city in the midst of an incredible and historic transformation.”
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