Ilitch proposes $650 million new downtown arena, entertainment district

Posted on December 4, 2012

Officials from Mike Ilitch’s Olympia Development Company are today outlining to state lawmakers plans for a $650 milllion-dollar mixed use development in downtown, anchored by a “new, state of the art, multi-purpose events center.”

Eric Larson, non-executive president of Olympia Development, told the Senate Government Operations Committee the public-private development is expected to annually produce more than 1,000jobs and $210 million in economic impact.

“The building of an events center district will create over 5,500 jobs for the events center alone and nearly 8,300 jobs for the first phase of the overall events district,” Larson said.

He pegged the overall economic impact of the project at $1.8 billion.

Larson did confirm it would include a new home for the Detroit Red Wings but said it would involve much more than that. There is no timetable for breaking ground on the development, he said.

“It’s always been my dream to once again see a vibrant downtown Detroit,” said Mike Ilitch, chairman, Ilitch Holdings, Inc., in a press release.

The Senate committee is considering changes to the Downtown Development Authority Act to provide for the development. More details are pending.

The Ilitch news release said that no site had been selected yet. But through years of land acquisition by the Ilitch organization and speculation by Ilitch watchers, at least three possible sites have been mentioned as potential locations for a new Ilitch-backed arena.

They are the area directly behind the Ilitch-owned Fox Theatre; an area opposite the Ilitch-owned Motor City Casino bounded roughly by Grand River, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and the Lodge freeway; and an area of mostly vacant lots west of Woodward and just north of I-75. The Ilitch organization owns a considerable amount of land in the downtown area.

The Ilitch media release today said the site chosen “will be strategically located to serve some of the most underutilized areas in Detroit’s downtown core, strengthening the link between Detroit’s existing assets through a continuous, walkable environment connecting one district to the next and serving to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.”

A spokeswoman for the Ilitch organization said there were no estimates yet of how many residential units, retail shops, or office space would be involved. She described today’s media release as the beginning of a process to “explore the viability” of such a project.

Generally a project of this size and scope would take at least one to two years to design and to win approvals and permits, and another two years to build.

Ilitch’s desire to build a new arena as the centerpiece of an entertainment district has long been one of the worst-kept secrets in Detroit.

As long ago as 1993, Ilitch was hiring top-ranked architectural firms to create master plans for the district around the Fox Theatre. Ilitch met in 1993 with top corporate executives in Detroit to explain his vision for an entertainment district centering on the Fox, according to a Free Press story at that time.