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Volume 21 No. 18
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In District Detroit, arena anchors new development at city’s heart

First came the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park in 2000, and then the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field in 2002. Now Little Caesars Arena adds another facility to Detroit’s core, part of a push for an urban renaissance built in part on sports.

“Sports has been kind of a beacon for [redevelopment], and now there are people walking the streets and having a good time,” said Pete Skorich, the Detroit Red Wings’ vice president of entertainment services. “It’s not just happening on game nights but all the time now.”

For many working downtown — such as the architects at sports design firm Rossetti, which moved its offices back to the city in 2013 — there’s now a tendency to stick around after hours. Instead of driving home to the suburbs, they’re more likely to eat and drink at the more than 100 restaurants and bars that have popped up downtown over the past few years. The arena is poised to expand that trend to what’s being called District Detroit, an area to the northwest of downtown that also includes the stadiums.

The four restaurants attached to Little Caesars Arena are year-round parts of the surrounding neighborhood.

“Before we even put lines on paper, it was about the district, something bigger than just a venue, and that informed us as architects about thinking a little bit differently about arenas,” said Ryan Gedney, HOK’s lead designer for Little Caesars Arena. “We had a unique opportunity. … It came from the motivation of trying to do everything to thread it in a more friendly way with the district at large.”

The four restaurants attached to Little Caesars Arena open up to the district as part of their year-round operations, including Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit and Mike’s Pizza, named for the late Mike Ilitch, Chris’ father, the Red Wings’ former owner and Little Caesars’ founder. All four eateries were crowded with diners before a recent hockey game, seated both indoors and outdoors on a beautiful early fall afternoon.

Apartment buildings being restored across the street from Little Caesars Arena are part of the initial phase of development, covering 700 units with a goal of providing 20 percent affordable housing in the district. Cleveland Cavaliers owner and Detroit native Dan Gilbert is already a major investor in the 50-block district, and over the next decade, project officials expect $3 billion to $5 billion in total development. For longtime Detroiters such as Skorich, the transformation will breathe new life into what he described as a “dead zone” for the past 50 years.

Olympia Development, part of Ilitch Holdings, controls about $1.5 billion in development underway in the district, covering the arena, plus multiple apartment buildings in a partnership with American Community Developers, including those being restored across the street.