Council gives ‘symbolic’ support for Pistons’ move

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit City Council voted Tuesday to support plans by the Detroit Pistons to move downtown, but cautioned it wasn’t an endorsement of the complex deal that involves millions in tax breaks and promises of jobs for city residents.

Tuesday’s vote was the first time the full City Council addressed the potential Pistons deal announced late last year. It marks the beginning of a more complicated debate. Council will have to hold further votes in the coming weeks in order for the plan to become reality.

“This is really symbolic in nature,” Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez said of Tuesday’s vote. “It’s ‘Hey, Pistons, we like you and we’d like you to come downtown,’” she said before adding that “nothing is set in stone.”

Starting next season, the Pistons are aiming to play their home games in downtown Detroit, moving from The Palace of Auburn Hills in Oakland County to Little Caesars Arena, the still-under-construction multimillion-dollar venue that also will be the home ice of the Detroit Red Wings. The Pistons’ owner, Palace Sports & Entertainment, also would move its corporate headquarters and practice facility from the Palace to an unidentified spot downtown. Palace Sports & Entertainment employs about 300.

The Pistons owners will invest an estimated $95 million for the move, and up to $34.5 million in taxpayer-backed bonds will be used for construction and design changes of the arena, according to the latest copy of the potential agreement given to the City Council. The public funding will come from a refinancing of the existing bonds to build the arena or the issuance of additional tax-exempt bonds, according to the document.

The Pistons practice facility and headquarters was described last year by the team owners and city officials this way: “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 owners may also get tax breaks to help build the practice facility. That could be a tax abatement of 50 percent for 12 years. A tax abatement reduces the amount of property tax that the Pistons owners would pay. Another option is a tax capture, or tax increment financing, to help pay for a potential parking deck. Tax increment financing is the ability to use increased local tax property revenues from a new development.

The billionaire owners of the Pistons and Wings also will form a mega-entertainment venture that would control many of the major performance venues in Detroit and its suburbs.

The Tuesday meeting of the City Council was the first step in getting the council’s approval for the deal. City officials said last week that the goal is to have all the necessary approvals obtained within 90 days.

If the deal gets the necessary approval from the various government agencies as well as the National Basketball Association, Detroit would be the only city in North America to have all of its four professional sports teams housed within four blocks of the city center.