Bid for a Detroit Major League Soccer team heats up

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — The path for how Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores could bring a new Major League Soccer team to Detroit may become more clear Thursday, but obstacles remain for the two billionaires banking on downtown’s revitalization.

In April, Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert, and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores announced their bid for a MLS franchise. They have proposed building a $1 billion mixed-use stadium complex on the site of the stalled Wayne County jail project in Greektown.

The formal process for Detroit to win a franchise is only about to begin: On Thursday afternoon, the league is expected to announce details on the process for how a new city and team can join.

One of the details expected to released is the cost to join the league. The current price is $100 million; some analysts predict that to rise to $200 million.

“No expansion teams will be announced,” said Dan Courtemanche, a MLS spokesman. Instead, the process to apply gets underway.

Detroit is among 10 cities competing for four MLS expansion spots. The other cities expected to compete for a team are Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; Nashville, Tennessee; Raleigh, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; St. Louis; San Antonio; San Diego; and Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida.

Back in April, MLS Commissioner Don Garber attended the Detroit news conference where Gores and Gilbert publicly released their plans.

Earlier this year, Garber labeled St. Louis and Sacramento as “front-runners” for the next wave. He listed Detroit as the leading contender beyond that, ahead of San Diego, San Antonio, Austin and Cincinnati. Detroit is one of the three largest media markets without an MLS franchise.

Meanwhile, Gores and Gilbert are still working to convince Wayne County that the best use of the partially built jail site is actually a professional soccer stadium.

They have proposed a 500,000-square-foot, 20,000- to 25,000-seat stadium with an estimated cost of $225 million to $250 million. The development proposal includes three glass skyscrapers — one hotel, one office building and one residential tower — ranging from 18 to 28 stories with retail, bars and restaurants.

Wayne County officials, however, said they still plan on building the jail on the existing 15-acre parcel on Gratiot, and that there is no sale pending to Gilbert and Gores.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has said in the past that the county would be receptive to an offer if it is reasonable and made before the county issues a request for proposals to complete the jail, which is expected to be issued soon.

“There’s been no shortage of speculation about this project, but we’re continuing to move forward with the Gratiot site,” Evans said in a written statement last month. “Once we issue the RFP, we’re not looking back. It’ll be full speed ahead on the Gratiot site.”

Matt Cullen, president and CEO of Gilbert’s Rock Ventures, said that the group has commissioned a study being done by the firm HOK that will outline the costs of building the jail at the current Gratiot site or somewhere else. The study will be provided to Wayne County Executive Evans soon, Cullen said.

Kevin Grigg, head of communications at Gore’s Palace Sports and Entertainment, said Gores will wait until details of the MLS board are released to make any comment.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN