Preview Center touts new arena and Ilitch's epic plan

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The "Preview Center" at Comerica Park has the air of an upscale corporate hotel: dark wood floors, mid-century modern leather furniture, creamy white curtains and flat-screen TVs on the walls.

It is a replica of the 52 corporate suites available to Metro Detroit's rich and famous for $275,000 a year, when the new Red Wings arena opens for hockey season in 2017.

Investors and businesses can see plans for the new Red Wings Arena at a state-of-the-art preview center in Comerica Park.

The center also displays the sleekest vision yet of the decades-long goal by the billionaire Ilitch family to build not only a groundbreaking new home for the Detroit Red Wings, but to have that venue spark 45 blocks of development.

"Isn't it just amazing in here?" asked Tom Wilson, president of Olympia Entertainment, as he stood in the 600-square-foot model. Olympia is part of the Ilitch family collection of businesses, which include Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, the Fox Theatre and plenty of property around its new hockey venue. The venue borders Woodward just north of downtown.

Details of the other developments — a hotel, apartments, new retail space and offices — haven't been announced, other than the location of some of the plans.

In the Preview Center, huge three-dimensional models of the 45 blocks and the new arena are on display.

The center opened two weeks ago to a select group of corporate clients, season ticket holders and potential investors in the area, dubbed by Olympia officials as The District Detroit. Since then, 28 of the 52 corporate suites at the new venue have been leased. The current 66 suites at Joe Louis Arena lease for $130,000 to $150,000 a year.

The new suites are larger than those at Joe Louis Arena, can hold 30 to 40 people, have fireplaces and are available essentially 24/7 to the lease holders.

Luxury suites are often the reason professional sports venues are built, says Emily Sparvero, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the economic impact of professional sports venues. Sparvero said most new venues are built not because the old facilities are physically obsolete, but because they are financially obsolete.

"Corporate suites are a steady, predictable source of revenue for a sports team that can help them weather blips in the economy," Sparvero said.

In the past two decades, 75 percent of U.S. sports teams have built or remodeled their home venues.

In the Preview Center, there's a 42-square-foot model of the arena. On the wall, an LED screen displays a computer-animated presentation of the arena and all the nearby stores and offices slated to be built.

Near the lobby is a 109-square-foot model of what the entire 45 blocks of District Detroit could someday become: There is the new hotel near the Interstate 75 service drive, and on the Woodward section that crosses I-75, storefronts smoothly link the new arena with current central business district. Two buildings in front of Comerica Park will hold up to 300 new apartments.