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Volume 21 No. 18
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Ilitches’ vision: An arena ‘dripping with history’

Little Caesars Arena stands out for the multiple displays of sports memorabilia that tell the stories behind the rich history of the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons.

There’s a lot of history to document: The Red Wings have won the most Stanley Cups of the NHL’s U.S. teams, and the Pistons are the NBA’s oldest franchise and second-oldest professional basketball team behind the Harlem Globetrotters.

The task fell to Marcel Parent after Olympia Entertainment hired him as the building’s director of curation and content activation.

Parent, who came from the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., was fortunate. The Ilitch family, owners of the Red Wings, compiled an extensive collection of artifacts dating to the early days of the Red Wings, an NHL Original Six team. The late Mike Ilitch, who bought the team in 1982, had a climate-controlled room reserved in the Fox Theatre, one of his properties, to store hockey sticks, gloves, skates and other items gathered from Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk, two Red Wings superstars from the past, as well as modern heroes Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov.

Red Wings and Pistons history is displayed on the concourses, as well as in premium spaces and a special event space.

Many of those items are on display at the new arena on the public concourses and premium spaces, in addition to display cases in Heritage Hall, a 4,000-square-foot room one floor above the team store that doubles as a special event space.

Most important, the Ilitch family, before Parent came on board, had the foresight to hire individuals to catalog every item in the storage room. From Parent’s experience in the museum world, that’s not typical for most organizations because it’s not a revenue generator.

“It all starts with the extraordinary vision of the Ilitch family that the new arena had to be dripping with history,” Parent said. “We wanted the arena to have history, art, branding and heritage, and it was a matter of finding a path where we could tell some of the great stories.”

The restored letters forming the old Olympia Stadium marquee are attached to a brick wall inside Little Caesars Arena. Six are original letters, the “O” a replica. (The original “O” was recently unearthed after a local resident informed the Red Wings that it was in his garage.)

“The letters are cool to look at during the day, but to really get goosebumps … you have to see them glowing at night,” Parent said.

The Pistons’ back-to-back NBA championship trophies during the “Bad Boys” era of the late ’80s and early ’90s are on display at the Ring of Honor on the northwest corner of the upper concourse. “We had to play catch-up after they decided to move downtown,” Parent said.