Initial designs far different for Little Caesars Arena

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

The first designs for Little Caesars Arena in Cass Corridor called for a 14-story stadium similar to the United Center in Chicago.

The United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks taken on January 16, 2003 in Chicago,Illinois.

Speaking a real estate seminar sponsored by the Urban Land Institute and University of Michigan in Detroit on Thursday, Tom Wilson, Olympia Entertainment CEO, gave some insight on how plans for the new Red Wings arena were developed.

Initial plans were far different from the shorter, $732.6-million stadium and ancillary development that Olympia Development of Michigan and Olympia Entertainment have been working on since April 2015.

The original vision called for a huge, “fabulous building” in Cass Corridor, a chunk of downtown that lacked the substance seen in downtown or Midtown, Wilson said. Initial plans for the building had none of the adjacent development tied to the current design.

Tom Wilson, President and CEO, Olympia Entertainment

But Chris Ilitch, CEO of Ilitch Holdings, wanted to do more than build only a new arena, and the “huge undertaking” of The District Detroit was thought up.

The District Detroit envelopes 50 blocks of space around Detroit’s entertainment district. On a map, the area is oblong, stretching from around MotorCity Casino east across Cass Corridor where it crosses Interstate 75 to cover the area around the Fox Theater, Comerica Park and Ford Field.

Throughout that area, Olympia plans to build five neighborhoods and a network of shops, bars and restaurants.

“That’s a huge undertaking,” Wilson said. “And it’s hard to start a neighborhood with a (14-story) building.”

So, developers sunk the 785,000-square-foot, 20,000-seat Little Caesars Arena into the ground so the arena only looms four stories over Woodward. From there, the designers pulled buildings holding the restaurants, concessions and shops away from the arena to create a spacey atrium inside, and an attractive streetscape outside.

“(The arena) feels far, far more like it’s been there for 20 or 30 years,” Wilson said.

Inside, the walls of the atrium will be made of old distressed brick. There will also be fire escapes on some of the walls, to make the atrium feel like the streets of Detroit, he said.

“This building is going to be, I promise you, a work of art,” Wilson said. He added that the arena will bridge a gap between Midtown and downtown.

Construction on the arena will wrap by the start of the 2017 NHL season late next summer. Included in construction there are parking garages, apartments, a hotel, bars, restaurants, stores and an outdoor plaza roughly the size of Rockefeller Plaza in New York.

Work on the historic Eddystone Hotel will start roughly a year after the arena is finished, as required by a development agreement. Work on the 50-block district is expected to start sometime after the arena, though Wilson didn’t provide details Thursday.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau