Pistons return to Detroit at critical stage

Louis Aguilar, and Rod Beard

Downtown Detroit could be welcoming an old friend home after almost 40 years.

The ownership groups of the Red Wings and Pistons are in advanced talks to move the Pistons back downtown to play in the new Little Caesars Arena, according to sources familiar with the talks.

No deal is pending and a number of details still need to be worked out, but some of initial issues have been agreed upon. The sources caution, however, that the deal still could fall through if both sides cannot agree on those remaining issues, including revenue splits.

It’s unclear when — or if — the deal will happen, sources said. If the next stages of negotiations go smoothly, a public announcement could be made in the coming weeks or months.

Pistons owner Tom Gores will be in Detroit for events Thursday and Friday.

Little Caesars Arena is scheduled to be completed next September, when Mike Ilitch’s Red Wings are to begin playing there. It’s unclear whether the Pistons would move there next season or in 2018-19 if a deal is reached.

Swath of Ilitch-owned land in Detroit goes empty soon

The seating capacity for basketball games at The Palace of Auburn Hills is nearly 20,000, according to the venue’s website. The seating capacity for hockey games at Little Caesars Arena is 20,000 for hockey games and up to 21,000 for basketball games, according to representatives of the Wings’ owner.

Part of the remaining discussions include building a separate practice facility for the Pistons downtown, but a location hasn’t been identified. Potential sites include land the Ilitch family already owns in the downtown area, including a three-block swatch of property just across from the MotorCity Casino, owned by Marian Ilitch.

Oakland County rejected a $370 million offer made by Gores in June for the county to buy The Palace, officials confirmed Monday. Other options included a long-term lease to keep the Pistons at The Palace, but that deal fell through.

Sources indicate The Palace is not for sale. If the Pistons move downtown, the building’s future is unclear, but it could be redeveloped for other uses. The Palace already hosts concerts, circuses and other events.

During the past year there’s been a courtship between Gores’ Platinum Equity LLC, owner of the Pistons, and the Ilitch family. The Ilitches tried to buy the Pistons before Gores purchased the team and Palace Sports & Entertainment from Karen Davidson for $325 million in 2011.

Representatives of Gores and the Ilitches declined comment for this story. Palace Sports includes the Pistons and The Palace, as well as other entertainment venues: DTE Energy Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre and Freedom Hill Amphitheatre.

At Pistons media day last month, Gores repeated his interest in moving the team downtown under the right terms and hinted that negotiations were in the works.

“We’re always looking at it. We’ve gotten a chance to really get to know the Ilitches,” Gores said. “I know Chris now well. They’re a great family and I respect a lot of what they’ve done for Detroit.

“We’re always assessing it, but it’s got to be good for everybody — us included — and for our fans.”

It’s been almost 40 years since the Pistons played in downtown Detroit, at times in the Cobo Arena and at old Olympia Stadium, which was also the Wings’ home.

Since 1988, the Pistons have been a fixture at The Palace, after a decade at the Pontiac Silverdome. The team has won three championships since moving to The Palace, most recently in 2004.