Oh, Mr. Mike Ilitch: How your extensive wealth and forward-thinking ideas have teased the legions of Detroit Red Wings fans and residents of the city that adores you.
An 82-year-old man who just wants to give Detroit something to be proud of, something to marvel at and something to house a winning hockey team, that is Ilitch, who also owns the Detroit Tigers.
Ilitch/Ilitch Holdings reportedly hired a firm to design a new downtown-Detroit arena for the Heroes of Hockeytown, the Red Wings. For years, fans have begged for a new barn; not that the place at 600 Civic Drive isn’t worthy, but it’s not exactly state-of-the-art. A new place wouldn’t be a bad trophy for the center of Michigan’s largest city, either — the “Gem of Detroit,” it would be called.
As the rest of the NHL evolves, franchises get new buildings, the Red Wings, who are one of the most recognizable teams in all of sports, need to follow suit. The City of Detroit doesn’t have the necessary funds to assist Ilitch’s dream, but that didn’t stop him from beckoning the services of HKS of Dallas, which has experience in constructing arenas, and Chan Krieger NBBJ, an architect from Boston who has a knack for developing urban sprawls.
That combination seems to be the recipe for a perfect storm, as Ilitch, who also owns Little Caesars’ Pizza, has bought up property throughout the downtrodden downtown area over the years. There’s even a piece of land close to the Joe Louis Arena that’s viewed as a suitable parcel for the new-look Red Wings arena.
But if Detroit won’t grant Ilitch any help, the dreams of a new arena will never come to fruition, therefore continuing to tease Red Wings followers with grand fantasies. They’ll keep thinking about Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters of the new building, which would likely be the gold standard of NHL facilities due to Ilitch’s vision. No half-stepping here, Ilitch would probably erect a building that would make fans of other teams cry.
It would be the Hall of Hockeytown, the grandest pile of bricks and rods of steel money could buy. Heck, the ice would probably be made of pure gold, and Ilitch might even furnish players with diamond-bladed skates, to boot.
I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Joe Louis Arena, which was built in 1979 and cost close to $60 million. It’s construction was finished two years before I was born, and older Red Wings fans and Detroit historians have told me that they either loved it or hated it. There wasn’t ever a middle ground — it was great or terrible.
As far as capacity is concerned, the Joe Louis Arena seats about 20,000, give or take a couple thousand depending on standing room, which is the most of any NHL arena. Why not build a 25,000-30,000 seat arena? Detroit sold the place out 50 times from December 2010 to January 2012; there is a demand for tickets, obviously.
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It wouldn’t hurt to add a few jobs in the city, either. Detroit has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country; not that the proposed new arena would put a significant dent in the city’s problems, but it could jumpstart Detroit’s pulse and get others interested in joining the fight.
Adam Biggers has followed the National Hockey League for over 20 years, specifically the Detroit Red Wings. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.