New Center in running for Pistons practice facility

Louis Aguilar, and Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

A New Center location on West Grand Boulevard is in the running for the Detroit Pistons’ practice facility and corporate headquarters, an estimated $32 million to $55 million development.

Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said city officials and representatives for the Pistons talked to her about a West Grand site as recently as this week, though she hasn’t been told the specific location.

“I was informed a West Grand location is definitely being considered, but a decision has not been made,” Sheffield said Wednesday. Sheffield represents Detroit’s District 5, which includes the New Center neighborhood. The area is north of Wayne State University’s main campus.

Sheffield said the location may be near Henry Ford Hospital and the future Third and Grand development, a six-story 231-unit apartment complex at the northwest corner of Third and Grand.

Officials said Tuesday the location of that practice facility appeared to be down to two locations: One potential site would be next to the arena and on top of a parking deck. They said another site was under consideration, but team and city officials declined to name that location.

On Tuesday, the professional basketball team announced plans to return to Detroit next season after 39 years in the suburbs. The Pistons will play in Little Caesars Arena, the still-under-construction venue that also will be the home ice of the Detroit Red Wings starting next season.

The Pistons’ return to Detroit is part of a multi-layered deal combining millions in public and private investment expected to add more punch to the city’s sports and entertainment scene. The deal still needs various approval, ranging from the National Basketball Association to several city and state government bodies. The deal could be sealed early next year, city officials said Tuesday.

In addition to moving its home court to Little Caesars Arena, the Pistons plan to relocate its corporate offices to the city and build a “community center/practice facility” at a yet-to-be-announced location.

Here’s the description of the Pistons practice facility and headquarters in the memorandum of understanding signed by the team owners and city: “A first-class ... practice facility and training center with multiple basketball courts, training, performance and rehabilitation facilities for Pistons players, and will serve as corporate offices and headquarters.”

The Pistons have agreed to back up $55 million in bonds if a “community center/practice facility” is built on public land.

Sheffield said the Pistons deal is expected to come before council early next year. Sheffield said she will focus on community benefits and how the neighborhood will be impacted.

“It could be a wonderful addition to the many investments going on in New Center,” she said, adding she’s had positive discussions with the Pistons owners.

Sheffield said she likely will be leading the first community benefits agreement under a new city law approved by Detroit voters this month. The ordinance lays out a process for engaging the community to negotiate job guarantees and other factors for projects worth $75 million or more.

Although the facility won’t meet that threshold, Pistons officials have committed to abide by the terms of the new law.

“It shows a commitment to want to honor community benefits and not just be a sports facility in the city of Detroit,” she said.

Sheffield said that the move would provide city children with more exposure to professional basketball games. The team owners, she said, have also committed $2.5 million to replace basketball courts in city parks.

“That’s a big thing for me, too,” she said.