Wayne State board could approve $40 million plan Friday afternoon
Images of the planned Mike Ilitch School of Business for Wayne State University, a $40 million donation, show it on a tree-lined Woodward Avenue and next to the new $532 million home of the Detroit Red Wings.
They are pictures of a very near future that’s taken years to develop. The new school would represent a major victory for the urban university and shape the legacy of the billionaire Ilitch family.
“It’s a great moment for the school, the family, and the city,” said WSU President M. Roy Wilson in a telephone interview Thursday. “This is something I have championed practically since the first day I got here.”
Wilson, who has been WSU president since August 2013, said the donation will enable the business school to offer a more innovative curriculum and more internships for students with downtown businesses.
The new school will not be on WSU’s main campus in Midtown, but two blocks north of downtown’s central business district. It will be in the heart of what is envisioned as a densely populated area anchored by the new arena being built by the Ilitches.
It could open new opportunities for students to focus on sports and entertainment-related industries, a cornerstone of the Ilitch family’s financial empire. Mike Ilitch is owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. He and his wife, Marian, co-founded Little Caesars Pizza. Marian Ilitch owns the MotorCity Casino Hotel. They own and operate the Fox Theatre. The Ilitches’ Olympia Entertainment controls several downtown performance venues. Forbes magazine estimates the Iltiches net worth at $5.5 billion.
On Friday afternoon, Wayne State’s Board of Governors is expected to approve the plan, bringing it one step closer to reality. The principals in the project hope to open the school by early 2018.
This is by far the largest public donation by the Ilitches and the biggest single donation ever given to Wayne State.
Last year, the College of Engineering received a $25 million gift from alumnus James A. Anderson.
“This is a very significant contribution from Mike and Marian and the family — something that will help define their legacy,” said Sandra Pierce, vice chairman of FirstMerit Corp. and chairman and chief executive officer of FirstMerit Michigan. Pierce is widely known in local philanthropic circles.
“I’m an alumni of Wayne State and a Detroit native. I think it’s just terrific,” Pierce said.
The Ilitches intend to donate the land and $35 million to build the school along with a $5 million endowment.
The school will take up at least one block and will be next to the northern edge of the state-of-the-art arena currently under construction. The 20,000-seat multipurpose venue, being built between Woodward and Cass, is slated to open in 2017.
Based on the renderings, the school looks to be bordered by Woodward, Temple, Park and Sproat. Facing Woodward will be a two-story building, in a neoclassical style, capped by a dome reminiscent of the Bonstelle Theatre, also owned by Wayne State and located two blocks north.
Behind the Woodward building is glass-covered atrium that links to a taller building with green glass-tinted wall, renderings show.
The block is mainly empty but there is one major building still operating, the Michigan Veterans Foundation at 2770 Park. The nonprofit runs the Detroit Veterans Center at the location, a transitional housing facility and resource center. The nonprofit has plans to move to a new location on Grand River and West Forest avenues in the Woodbridge area. The move is awaiting approval from the Detroit City Council.
The WSU school is just one in an expected string of major developments the Ilitch family may announce over the next year as it pursues its goal of creating a stable residential and retail area in the 45 blocks around the new stadium. Currently, major sections are blighted or vacant.
The Ilitches have committed to invest at least another $200 million for other developments in the 45-block district. The entire project has an estimated projected economic benefit of $1.8 billion.
While, the Ilitches’ Olympia Development of Michigan continues to buy property in the 45-block area, most of the development plans remain unknown.