SBD/July 22, 2014/Facilities

Red Wings To Open Marketing Center At Comerica Park For New Arena Ticket Sales

Detroit's new entertainment district will be built adjacent to Comerica Park
Red Wings President Tom Wilson said that the team plans to "open a marketing center" at Comerica Park in order to "sell premium seats" at the team's proposed $450M arena, according to Don Muret of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The ballpark is "across the street from the downtown construction site." Wilson "would not say when" the marketing center would open. Setting up shop at the ballpark is "a matter of convenience because Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns the Tigers." The Red Wings "won’t outsource premium sales to a third party, instead relying on" Senior VP/Sales John Ciszewski. Wilson said of the proposed arena site, "The feeling is we didn’t want to be Staples Center or United Center, which are big, beautiful buildings, but we didn’t want to build it in that sort of island fashion. We want to immerse ourselves in downtown and not be just another destination location" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/21 issue).

GIVE THEM A BREAK: Ilitch Holdings President & CEO Chris Ilitch yesterday said that tax subsidies are "the only way to achieve the game-changing project." Ilitch: "It took us 15 years to accumulate the property so we can achieve this transformative project. Now we really have been unharnessed, unleashed." In Detroit, Louis Aguilar notes construction of both the arena and the $200M in other development "could start in September" and "much of it could be done" by summer '17 (DETROIT NEWS, 7/22). Also in Detroit, John Gallagher reports the unveiling of the Red Wings' plans "provoked a range of reactions ... from unabashedly upbeat to decidedly negative." Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said that his administration would "work closely with the Ilitch family." He also said that he would hold the Ilitches to "pledges of buying Michigan-made materials and hiring Detroit residents for the project." Many of the reactions "centered on the large tax subsidies and incentives provided by various levels of government for the project," while others said that they were "worried about traffic." Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder "defended the substantial investment of public dollars" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 7/22).

PULLING A 180 FOR 360: Sources said that the Red Wings’ switch in arena designers from HKS to 360 Architecture was driven by the overall project expanding in recent months to cover a much larger redevelopment of downtown Detroit. Several years ago, 360 Architecture consulted with the Red Wings for developing a new arena. In '12, the team selected HKS and Chan Krieger NBBJ to design the facility. At that time, 360 Architecture did not submit a proposal for reasons unknown. But in May of this year, the Red Wings decided to go in a different direction and chose 360 to plan the arena portion. HKS has not designed a major league arena since American Airlines Center opened in '01. Crain’s Detroit Business first reported the change in architects. Sources said that as it stands now, Olympia Development, the llitch family’s real estate division, plans to work with fellow developers to transform a massive stretch of 45 blocks, including the arena site. A source said, “It’s almost unprecedented and it called for a different approach. They will be hiring a large team of architects and urban planners. HKS is helping with the transition. There is no criticism of HKS. They do nice work, but the scope of the project has changed” (Muret).

A WHOLE NEW WORLD: A DETROIT NEWS editorial states the unveiling of the Ilitch plan over the weekend "should be the start of an all-out push to get it built." On paper, the Ilitch family vision for downtown Detroit is "transformational." Nothing this exciting "has ever been offered for Detroit, at least nothing with as much potential of actually getting built." Mike Ilitch "believes the hockey team has outgrown the Joe Louis Arena, and needs a new rink to realize its full potential." But what "sets his arena project apart from past construction of homes for sports teams is that Ilitch is not promising spin-off benefit, he’s building it." The promised return on sports complexes across the country is "rarely fully realized," but the Ilitches are "committed to making sure it happens in Detroit." Of course, the project "could derail." The economy "could take another downturn." Demand for downtown space "could slow." But the city, at least, should "do its part to take the development from paper to reality" (DETROIT NEWS, 7/22).
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