Work on new Wings arena could start in 'several weeks'

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — A yellow bulldozer, excavator and other major machinery are now on the barren land where the new home of the Detroit Red Wings is expected to be built and open in time for the team's 2017 season opener.

The equipment is a sign that construction work could start in "the next several weeks," according to Doug Kuiper, a spokesman for Ilitch Holdings Inc. The family-controlled entity owns the hockey team and is behind the massive $450 million development. But first, the Ilitch organization must gain a key zoning approval from City Council that's been on hold since late November. Without that approval, construction cannot begin.

"We have moved heavy equipment on site to prepare for the start of construction on the new Detroit Events Center in the next several weeks," said Kuiper, in a written statement Sunday.

"In the meantime, we continue to work with City Council on zoning approvals so we can bring 8,300 construction and construction-related jobs online and begin to hire Detroiters and others — as well as local, regional and state companies — to build this transformative project," Kuiper said.

It's not clear when the Ilitch organization will approach the council on the zoning change, but it will have to be soon if construction is to begin.

The zoning change has been on hold since Olympia Development of Michigan, the development arm of the Ilitch organization, asked to delay a vote so the firm could address traffic and historic preservation concerns. The council wants Olympia Development to reveal its intentions for two historic buildings, as well as more details on traffic and parking for an estimated 12 million people a year.

The rezoning request centers on a four-block area between Woodward and Cass that includes the arena, two above-ground parking garages and mixed-use space connected to the arena.

The arena will be 58 percent publicly financed and 42 percent privately financed.

The new arena is expected to be the catalyst of a stunning transformation of a 45-block, $650 million district north of downtown that would create up to 2,000 new residential units, dozens of retailers and offices. If things go as planned, the Ilitches' vision will have created something bigger than the current downtown Detroit, New York City's Greenwich Village or Washington's Georgetown.

The boundaries of that new "District Detroit" stretches from Grand Circus Park to the south to Charlotte Avenue to the north, to Grand River to the west and Woodward and Ford Field to the east.

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