July 21, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Ilitches reveal plans for Detroit's new 'sports and entertainment' district

Christopher IIitch on the downtown plan
Christopher IIitch on the downtown plan: Christopher IIitch, President & CEO, Ilitch Holding, Inc. talks about his family's vision for the new sports and entertainment district.

Detroit— The home arena for the Detroit Red Wings would be among the five “new neighborhoods” with hundreds of new apartments, offices and other mixed-use retail that could open by summer 2017, according to the billionaire family that controls much of the land.

On Sunday, renderings were publicly unveiled by the Olympia Development of Michigan, which is the driver behind the $650 million development project that would overhaul a 45-block area on the northern edge of downtown. Olympia Development is the real estate arm of Michael and Marian Ilitch, co-founders of Detroit-based Little Caesars Pizza. Michael Ilitch is owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. Marian Ilitch owns MotorCity Casino Hotel.

Olympia also declared it would accelerate construction plans and try to start many projects simultaneously so they could come online as quickly as possible. Construction could begin in September.

“I want people to look at Detroit’s new sports and entertainment district and see what I see: the potential for something very special. I couldn’t be more excited and proud to bring this vision to life,” said Mike Ilitch in a written statement released Sunday.

A website called DistrictDetroit.com shows drawings of a new arena with a glass-roofed concourse and a roof emblazoned with the Detroit Red Wings logo. The arena itself is buffered from Woodward Avenue by new commercial buildings. Other renderings show pedestrian-filled streets with restaurants and apartments where there are now acres of surface parking lots and empty buildings — many owned by Olympia Development of Michigan.

“The District” as it’s called on the website, would link development efforts in downtown and Midtown Detroit along Woodward Avenue with walkable, livable mixed-use neighborhoods. No details were given of what possible retailers would be lured to the area, which developers would be involved or the price tag on many of the developments.

Several residents in the affected area said Sunday there was still not enough information to determine the impact in their neighborhood.

“To me, they are still just basic outlines of plans; not guarantees that designs will change in the future; not a lot of details of what kind of retail, what kind of construction issues will come up,” said Warren McBryde, a longtime Brush Park resident. He’s also a member of the neighborhood advisory committee that meets with Olympia officials about the planned development.

On Sunday, Glenn Ross walked amid a desolate patch near Cass and Temple, an area now mainly controlled by Olympia, that is the western border of the planned $450 million arena.

“This place needs a lot of change and I give them a lot of credit for investing and wanting to make it happen,” Ross said, identifying himself as a longtime resident of the area.

“But so many people are concerned whether they will still be able to afford it once it changes,” Ross said.

Some details of the five neighborhoods planned include:

■The Arena: A glass-roofed concourse is part of the deconstructed design that will connect the arena with apartments, restaurants, retail, parking garages and other potential development.

■Columbia Street: Near the Fox Theatre and the Fillmore Detroit, an area focused on entertainment and dining. Olympia will build a multistory office building that will have ground-level restaurants on Columbia.

■Wildcat Corner: Anchored by Comerica Park and Ford Field,Olympia intends to build apartments in two buildings on the surface parking lots between Comerica Park and Woodward Avenue.

A separate building will provide additional bleacher seats for Tigers games and possibly retail and bar space near Adams Street.

■Cass Park Village: A primarily residential neighborhood.

■Columbia Park: Will be anchored by a new public green space.

Olympia said Sunday it also has expanded its planned investment in the district to now include tens of millions of dollars in new neighborhood public infrastructure improvements such as lighting, sidewalks, green spaces and streets.

Since the late 1980s, Mike Ilitch and his family have invested more than $1 billion downtown. Most projects have benefited from tax write-offs and tax breaks.

Of the $650 million “district” project, about $367 million, or 56 percent, of the entire project would come from private investment. About $283 million, or 44 percent, in public investment would come through existing economic development money, requiring no new taxes.

Olympia group will pick up 42 percent of the new arena’s construction cost. The rest will come from a financing arrangement using school and local property tax revenue to pay off state-issued bonds. The Detroit Downtown Development Authority will own the arena and lease it to the Red Wings for an initial 35 years.

The Ilitches have scored spectacular downtown victories that continue to be vital downtown draws. In 1987 they purchased and restored the historic Fox Theatre and moved the Little Caesars headquarters to the building from the suburbs.

Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers and Red Wings and has kept both downtown. He spearheaded the Tigers’ move to Comerica Park.

Marian Ilitch’s MotorCity Casino Hotel is an important source of tax revenue for the city.

Last year, after years of secrecy, Olympia Development of Michigan unveiled plans for a new home for the Red Wings. It came amid a vocal minority who howled at the tax breaks.

Still, some have lost patience with the Ilitches.

The Ilitches have infuriated some for doing little with several of their historical buildings. They owned the Madison-Lenox Hotel, demolished in 2005 after a years-long fight with local and national preservation groups. The building was empty when the Ilitches bought it, hung onto it and then argued it was too blighted to renovate. The city’s historical commission repeatedly denied permission to tear down the Beaux Arts landmark.

In 2008, Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority used $2.5 million in state money to knock down six Ilitch-owned buildings near Grand Circus Park, including the Fine Arts Building and Adams Theatre. Olympia put revenue-generating parking lots on some of the parcels cleared with taxpayer money.

The Ilitches financed about 60 percent of the $350 million cost of Comerica Park, while Wayne County taxpayers and federal grants covered the balance.

In 2006, the Ilitches held a press conference with then Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to declare a major renewal for some of their empty buildings. Most of those buildings are still vacant.

Now those buildings are part of the planned “new neighborhoods.”

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN

Christopher IIitch on the downtown plan: Christopher IIitch, President & CEO, Ilitch Holding, Inc. talks about his family's vision for the new sports and entertainment district.
The envisioned 5 neighborhoods. (Dennis Allain Renderings)
On Sunday, renderings were publicly unveiled by the Olympia Development of ... (Olympia Development of Michigan renderings)