SBJ/July 16-22, 2012/Facilities

With new plan, Pistons resume drive to keep Palace updated

The Detroit Pistons, historically aggressive in keeping the Palace of Auburn Hills current with newer arenas, have more upgrades in the works after last week’s announcement of a $15 million, privately financed renovation.

Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the team and owns and operates the NBA venue, unveiled the first phase of a three- to five-year master plan under Tom Gores, who bought the Pistons a year ago. The biggest change is eliminating 16 suites at the top of the arena to build a new open-air lounge with views to the court.

The first phase of Palace upgrades will include a makeover for the Club West area.
Photo by: ROSSETTI
The concept of the new club is still under consideration as Palace Sports moves forward on the project with Rossetti, the architect hired to develop the improvements. Rossetti designed the Palace and $117 million in improvements after the arena opened in 1988.

In general, the Pistons want to build a full-service club on the penthouse level at the top of the arena with the flexibility to accommodate all game-day ticket holders, but a space that specifically attracts younger NBA fans tuned in to social media, said Rossetti principal Jim Renne.

The lounge’s working title, Innovation Club, reflects a theme that could incorporate social media components, Renne said. In that respect, it would fall in line with the social media hub at Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils, among other big league arenas.

“We haven’t started the full design phase, but [the Pistons] really want to appeal to a different demographic,” Renne said.

The Pistons “will test a number of concepts and get a feel for what the trends are,” said Dennis Mannion, Palace Sports’ president and CEO. “There is a lot of potential for social spaces.”

As the team considers cutting even more of the original 80 upper-level suites, all now marketed as game-day rentals, one concept already under consideration is building opera box-style premium seats to replace traditional skyboxes.

“I love the theater box concept at the United Center,” Mannion said.

The Chicago arena and other NBA facilities have converted conventional suites into smaller, two- and four-seat units with shared dining space in the back that sell for a fraction of the cost compared with the six-figure expense of a 12- to 16-person suite.

“Whether you call it the mini-suite or the opera box, it’s the crossover of the enclosed space with seats in the bowl that has intimacy and elegance,” said Rossetti principal Matt Rossetti. “It’s creating more community VIP space with less of a boundary.”

Palace Sports will also renovate 40 suites on the arena’s first suite level. In the past, decorating the suites was left to the suite owners, but now the Pistons will take over outfitting those units by adding flat-screen TVs, new furniture, and floor and wall coverings.

The team will not increase suite prices, Mannion said. He would not discuss pricing; four years ago, the last time such figures were available, regular suites at the Palace cost $75,000 to $300,000 annually.

The first phase of upgrades, starting this summer, also includes renovation of Club West above the West Atrium entrance and wireless improvements.

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